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The Handicapped and the Church 

Edited by Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz 


The Handicapped 
and the Church 

Edited by 

Geiko Miiller-Fahrenholz 

Faith and Order Paper No. 89 

World Council of Churches, Geneva 

The cover drawing , entitled “ The People of this World Belong Together" , was 
made by 10- and 11- year olds in class 5B of the Ubbo-Emmius Gymnasium in 
Leer t Federal Republic of Germany. 

© 1979 World Council of Churches, 150 route de Ferney, 
1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland 

Cover design: Daniel Caselli 
ISBN: 2-8254-0593-0 
Printed in Switzerland 


Preface Lukas Vischer 1 

Introduction: The Magnitude of the Problem 5 

I have never seen the Light 11 

I. Theological basis 

Not Whole without the Handicapped — 

Leslie Newbigin 17 

Giving Account of the Hope that is within Us . . . 26 

Room for All of Us to be Free — Ulrich Bach ... 29 

Beau Sejour 54 

II. Practical steps 

We help Ourselves — Martin Schroter 59 

A Psalm of Thanksgiving 68 

Psalms from a Hospital Bed 70 

Finding a Place in the Christian Community — 

Jean Wahl , M. Lezzi , E. Marthe 71 

Kerry 97 

Building Bridges — Hildegard Beyer 98 

Second Class Human Beings 106 

The Handicapped in the Orthodox Church — 

Stephen Plumlee 109 

Serene Faith 115 

III. The present situation 

For Example — in the GDR 

Work with the Handicapped — Heinrich Behr ... 119 

For Example — in Kenya 

The Church and the Disabled — Karen Kamau ... 132 


The Joot of Ahero: a self-reliant Scheme of Social 

Care — B. D. Harrison 135 

For Example — in the USA 

The Church responding to Persons with Handicaps — 

Harold H. Wilke 146 

IV. Appendices 

1. Present Rehabilitation Services, their Deficiencies 

and new Directions for Disability Prevention . . 165 

2. The Life and Witness of the Handicapped in the 

Christian Community — the Bad Saarow Mem- 
orandum 177 



“Never in my life have I found a community more welcoming and 
accepting than the Church.” This is the witness of one physically 
handicapped person. How many others can say the same? 

Certainly the Gospel presses for care of the handicapped and, in 
the course of centuries, countless Christians have given their lives 
to the service of those whose disabilities threatened to push them 
to the margin of the human community. It would be ungrateful to 
ignore the commitment and example of such people. Their service 
and ministry have often broken through barriers of limited love 
and of prejudice in society. But, for most Christians, the words 
quoted above can only be heard with shame. 

In practice, Christian communities — whatever their traditions — 
are open to the handicapped only to a very limited extent. The 
churches have done considerable work in building special insti- 
tutions. They have contributed greatly to encouraging society at 
large to make greater efforts. But have they really included the 
handicapped in their own communal life? Mutual acceptance of 
“normal” and “handicapped” members is the test of true com- 
munity, and the answer to God’s love lies in our acceptance of 
others as he accepted us. So, is it not the place which we give to the 
handicapped that indicates the degree to which our community is 
really the community of Christ? 

And so we talk about the unity of the Church. It may seem strange 
to regard the question of the handicapped in this context because 
the unity of the Church is generally thought of as a question of 
teaching and order. It demands agreement on baptism, eucharist 
and ministry. Certainly — it does. But at the same time it demands 
much more. For how valuable would be a unity in which handi- 


capped people had no part? What would be the sense of a cel- 
ebration at the Lord’s Table if persons with handicaps did not 
have access to it? It would be a curtailed and wretched form of 

The World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order 
began to get involved in this question a few years ago. In the 
framework of its work on the theme “Unity of the Church and 
Unity of Humankind”, the line of division between the handicapped 
and the able-bodied became evident. It cuts across the life of all 
churches in every country, and is found in each local situation. 
It is, of course, not the only line which divides humanity, but it 
is a very real one. 

At the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 
Nairobi, 1975, it was made clear once again that we cannot talk 
about the requirements of unity without listening to the witness 
of the handicapped. Ms Ruth Elizabeth Knapp from New York, 
herself handicapped since childhood, spoke out and lived out this 
witness of that time. The following extract from the Section II 
Report of the Nairobi Assembly takes up her concern, an issue 
which in reality concerns almost five hundred million human 

The Handicapped and the wholeness of the family of God. 

The Church's unity includes both the “disabled" and the “able". 
A church which seeks to be truly united within itself and to move 
towards unity with others must be open to all; yet able-bodied 
church members , both by their attitudes and by their emphasis 
on activism , marginalize and often exclude those with mental or 
physical disabilities. The disabled are treated as the weak to be 
served rather than as fully committed , integral members of the Body 
of Christ and the human family; the specific contribution which 
they have to give is ignored. This is the more serious because 
disability — a worldwide problem — is increasing. Accidents and 
illness leave adults and children disabled; many more are emotion- 
ally handicapped by the pressures of social change and urban 
living; genetic disorders and famine leave millions of children 
physically or mentally impaired. The Church cannot exemplify 
“the full humanity revealed in Christ ", bear witness to the 
interdependence of humankind , or achieve unity in diversity if it 
continues to acquiesce in the social isolation of disabled persons 
and to deny them full participation in its life. The unity of the 
family of God is handicapped where these brothers and sisters 
are treated as objects of condescending charity. It is broken 


where they are left out. How can the love of Christ create in us 
the will to discern and to work forcefully against the causes 
which distort and cripple the lives of so many of our fellow human 
beings ? How can the Church be open to the witness which Christ 
extends through them ? 

Breaking Barriers, Nairobi 1975, ed. David M. Paton, pp. 61-62. 

The cause of the handicapped is a demand and a challenge to the 
whole Church, to its theology and its worship, to its congregational 
life and teaching. It is also, but not only, a demand and a request 
to the diaconal responsibility of the Church. Handicapped persons 
are in many respects dependent on attentive assistance. But they 
are partners, not simply objects of Christian charity. Whoever 
treats them as such robs them of their worth and disregards the 
fact that they, too, are created in the image of God. 

This book is, therefore, a beginning in an attempt to discover 
anew the wholeness of the family of God in and with the handi- 
capped. The effort to include in it a diversity of expressions took 
time, so that some of the contributions were written earlier than 
others — some in 1977 — but their message is still valid. Much 
of the book remains fragmentary. It contains flashes of insight 
which may throw new light on theological convictions, educational 
and practical tasks. It is a collection of impulses and challenges, 
telling of experiments, successes and disappointments. It is a book 
on which many different people have collaborated, handicapped 
people, and parents or relatives of handicapped people, social 
workers, pastors and theologians. Interspersed throughout are 
testimonies and prayers of persons with handicaps, which reflect 
something of their courage, their suffering and their faithfulness. 
The editor has not tried to smooth out the individuality of these 
voices. Aggression, bitterness, disappointment, confidence, pro- 
test, love, patience — they will all be felt in the texts which are 
collected here. 

The United Nations has declared 1981 as the Year of the Disabled. 
Several efforts are underway to awaken conscience for the problems 
of the handicapped. The churches will welcome this Year with 
special emphasis. They will use the opportunity to prove their 
message and their service and to work for the renewal of their com- 
munity. The present book is meant to direct the churches’ attention 
towards this special year. We trust that the volume will help all of 
us, whether we have to live with handicaps or not, to live with 
each other and to sustain each other as partners in life to the 
glory of God. 

Lukas Vischer 


I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all who have contributed 
to this book and who have sacrificed a good amount of time and 
energy to write their texts. I have been privileged to have the help 
of the Rev. Barbara von Teichman who assisted me in securing 
and editing the manuscripts. I am also deeply indebted to Margaret 
Dunn for giving this book its final shape. 

Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz 



The Magnitude of the Problem 

The contributions assembled in this book assume that disability is a 
worldwide problem affecting people regardless of class, sex, race, or 
nation. It is also assumed that disability is a global problem of 
staggering magnitude. It seems appropriate, therefore, to provide 
some background information to substantiate these assumptions, and 
the most recent and comprehensive account of the situation can be 
found in a document of the World Health Organization of 1976 
entitled “Disability prevention and rehabilitation” (A29/Inf. Doc/I, 
1976, pp. 16-20). The following excerpts are reproduced with the kind 
permission of WHO. 


Our present knowledge of the magnitude of the disability problem 
is limited by the fact that relatively few research studies have been 
made in this area and most of them in a small number of developed 
countries; these studies often lack comparability because different 
definitions and criteria of disability are used. Most of the quanti- 
tative studies deal with estimations of the prevalence of impairment 
and functional limitation, or are studies of economic dependency 
rather than disability. 

Some of the figures represent overestimations and others grossly 
understate the magnitude of the problem. Sampling techniques 
are seldom rigorous and sound survey methods are infrequently 
applied. It is thus necessary to state that all estimates, including 
those given below, carry a high risk of probable error. 


1. Magnitude of the problem related to health sector causes 

We need to make at least some attempts to estimate numbers, 
since a knowledge of the impairments contributing to disability 
will give information about the extent to which it is preventable, 
about the forms functional limitations take, and about what the 
future trends might be. The figures given below concern health 
sector impairments, from which functional limitations can be 
applied. Determinations of the extent of disability and dependency 
associated with these impairments is virtually impossible using 
present information. We will present figures on impairments which 
undoubtedly lead to marked long-term permanent functional 
limitations, under the assumption that these will give us the best 
available estimates of the number of disabled. 

Table 1. Causes of disability and estimated number of disabled 
people in the world 

Estimated disabled people 

Medical cause 

(world population 4,000 million) 



Congenital disturbances: 

Mental retardation 1 



Somatic hereditary defects . . . 



Non-genetic disorders 



Communicable diseases: 













Other communicable diseases . . 



Noncommunicable somatic diseases . 



Functional psychiatric disturbance . 



Chronic alcoholism and drug abuse . 




Traffic accidents 



Occupational accidents .... 



Home accidents 















Correction for possible double 

accounting (—25%) 

- 129 



1 Not all of these are congenital cases. 


The estimated total number of disabled is about 400 million, or 
10 per cent of the world population. Allowing for some miscalcu- 
lation and double counting, the lowest estimate must exceed 
300 million, or about 8 per cent of the world population. 

Others trying to calculate the prevalence of disability have arrived 
at figures of the same magnitude. The most thorough estimation 
in the past has been done by an expert group working under the 
auspices of Rehabilitation International. This group arrived at a 
figure of about 450 million, out of which 300 million were calcu- 
lated to be “without basic rehabilitation services”. 

The figures above include persons with decreased ability to carry 
out major forms of activities (e.g. to work, take care of themselves, 
housekeep, engage in school activities or comparable education, 
or be unable to get around without help, or make social contacts 
owing to major disturbances). About one-third of such people are 
estimated to be dependent on daily help from others. 

2. Magnitude of the problem related to socio-economic causes 

The problem may also be studied from a different angle, by calcu- 
lating the number of persons with a disturbance that makes them 
unable to work and earn, to look after themselves, and to maintain 
social relations. 

Some studies have shown that there is an association between 
disability and socio-economic disadvantages, e.g. poverty, lack 
of education and job opportunities, working conditions, geo- 
graphical isolation, social prejudices built into the structure of 
society, ethnic and religious factors, etc. The highest incidence of 
disability is found among the underpriviliged. Thus, no one single 
intervention (such as improved medical services) would solve this 
complex, multi-faceted problem. 

It would have been an advantage to have parallel studies relating 
the magnitude of the disability to other than medical factors, thus 
illustrating the importance of both the medical and socio-economic 
causes, but such studies do not seem to be available. 

In sum: the number of disabled people in the world is not known 
with any degree of certainty. Cautious estimates made in this 
document indicate that some 10 per cent of the world population 
may have a disability in a major daily activitiy and/or mobility. 
There can be no doubt that the problem is large enough and 
sufficiently widespread to justify interventions in all countries. 


Future trends of the magnitude and characteristics of the disability 

Any projections into the future of the magnitude of the disability 
problem will have to be based on inadequate data, because for 
very few geographical areas are there any statistics concerning 
past trends on the number of disabled people. In many areas of the 
world, both population figures and health statistics are grossly 
inadequate. Thus, all predications will have to be based on rough 
estimates. Any change in the composition of the group of disabled 
people will also affect the population needs and have consequences 
on the kind of services required. 

The following factors, however, are relevant to this problem: 

(i) If in the future there should be a decrease in morbidity from 
communicable diseases, the number of persons with dis- 
ability as a result of polio, tuberculosis, trachoma, malaria, 
leprosy, etc. will become reduced. 

The present high mortality from gastro-intestinal and respir- 
atory diseases affects selectively the severely impaired and 
disabled populations of developing countries. When the mor- 
tality from such communicable diseases is reduced, the sur- 
viving disabled population will increase. This also implies 
that although the number of young paralysed, blind, and 
deaf persons may be reduced, those with severe complicated 
fractures, severe burns, blindness, or mental disturbances (e.g., 
psychosis, retardation, etc.) will survive and occupy an 
increasing part of the adult and aged population. 

(ii) If the food situation in the world should deteriorate as a result 
of an interplay of several adverse factors, the problem of 
malnutrition which now affects approximately 500 million 
people might worsen in the future. Such a situation would lead 
to an increase in the number of persons disabled as a result 
of the immediate and long-term effects of under-nutrition and 
various types of malnutrition. 

(iii) If the present population growth rate or even a slightly 
diminished one continues in the developing countries, there 
may be increasing difficulties in achieving socio-economic 
development including the general development of community 
health care services. Thus, the resources for a reduction of the 
disability problems in these areas will remain inadequate, 
unless a major programme aimed at disability prevention is 


(iv) A changed age composition in the world population will 
probably take place during 1975 to 2000, since a life expectancy 
at birth of 60-65 years in the less developed countries and 
75-80 years in developed countries should be obtainable. Most 
of this change will be attributed to a reduction of mortality 
rates among children, primarily through a reduction of infec- 
tious diseases. 

It is estimated that the world population aged 60 years and 
above, which in 1970 was some 291 million, will by the year 
2000 have risen to 585 million. This rise will mainly be due to 
an increase in the total world population from 3,632 million 
to 6,494 million and only to a small degree to an increased 
proportion of the elderly (1970 = 8%; 2000 = 9%). 

A higher proportion of adults and elderly people in the world 
population will contribute to a change in the characteristics 
of the disability problem. Work disability will emerge as an 
even more preponderant problem, and also that of difficulties 
in self-care among the elderly. One will also see a changing 
picture of impairments causing disability, such as occupational 
accidents, psychiatric disturbances, alcoholism, drug abuse 
among adults, and cardiovascular and locomotor disturbances 
among the elderly. A proportionate relative diminution, but 
not an absolute one, of impairment associated with children 
(e.g., home accidents, polio) will appear. 

The rising number of elderly people might not in itself give 
rise to increased disability problems. An increased proportion 
of the elderly is usually associated with a higher degree of 
socio-economic development and an improved basic health 
state in the general population. Disability problems might thus 
not increase as such, but they will be postponed until an even 
later age in life and their character will be different. 

(v) Increased urbanization and industrialization cause increased 
disability problems. There is some indication that they are 
associated with a rise in the incidence of neurosis, psycho- 
somatic disorders, alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as a 
decreasing tolerance in the community towards persons mani- 
festing deviant behaviour. Many mentally retarded and 
psychotic persons, who might be cared for in a rural area and 
might even be usefully productive there, face a completely 
changed situation when resettled in an urban (often slum) area. 

Road and industrial accidents, and exposure to industrial 
toxic agents may also increase in developing areas as traffic 
and industries develop, causing increased prevalence of impair- 


ment. They may, however, decrease in developed countries 
where strong preventive action is now being taken. Urban 
slum areas often have greater employment problems than 
rural areas, and increased levels of unemployment usually 
selectively affect persons with impairments. 

On the other hand, more recent experience indicates that in 
some areas the difference between an urban-industrialized and 
rural-agricultural setting is less than it used to be. Mass com- 
munication and other changes have brought the tensions and 
problems of urbanized society into hitherto untouched areas. 

To try to look into the future is always very difficult and the 
question of what might happen then is more or less related to the 
complicated question of the future socio-economic development, 
especially of the rural areas in the developing world. However, it 
should be emphasized that socio-economic development in the 
industrialized countries has tended to be accompanied by an 
increase in the disability problem rather than by a decrease. Thus, 
when all factors are considered, it may be predicted that both the 
number of disabled people in the world and their proportion in the 
population will increase in the future. Most experts who have made 
estimates on this problem share this view. 



The German, E. J. Christoffel, spent his life as a 
missionary to the blind and disabled in the Middle 
East. On one of his journeys in Turkey he met Rasul 
Oemer oghlu. He recorded their conversation. 

“What is your name, my boy?” I asked him. 

“Rasul Oemer oghlu.” 

“Are you the Kurdish boy who stays with Mahmud, 
the Kaffeetschi?” 

“Yes, Beyim.” 

“Where are your parents?” 

“Dead. I never knew them.” 

“Have you no relatives?” 

“No, Beyim.” 

“For how long have you been blind?” 

“I don’t know. I have never seen the light.” 

“How do you manage to live?” 

“I collect, Beyim.” (that means: I beg) 

“Do you get enough to be full?” 

“No, Beyim, I often go to sleep hungry.” 

“What do you do then, my boy?” 

“Nothing, Beyim, I just cry.” 

“Does the Kaffeetschi not give you anything?” 
“Very rarely. He yells and curses when I cry.” 
“Where do you put your bed?” 

“I have no bed.” 

“But how do you sleep?” 

“On the floor, Beyim.” 

“Don’t you freeze?” 

“Very much so in winter. It’s not so bad in summer.” 
“Do the people not harm you in town, when you 

“Some people yell and curse when I come. The 
children often throw stones at me.” 

“Then what do you do, my boy?” 

“I weep. Often I throw stones back at them, or mud, 
or whatever else I can get. Then the children laugh. 
When I get very angry, I curse them.” 

“Is there nobody who loves you?” 


“I do not understand what you are saying, Beyim.” 
“I mean does nobody ever say to you: my dear boy?” 
“No Beyim. To me they say other things.” 

“What do they say, Rasul?” 

“To me they say: you dog, you blind dog, you son 
of a bitch.” 

“Is there nobody who puts his arms around you, 
strokes your cheek or kisses your brow?” 

“No, Beyim, nobody has ever done that to me.” 
“Why have you come to me?” 

“Are you not the Aleman-Effendi, who has come 
here because of the blind?” 

“Yes, I am the one, my boy.” 

“I wanted to come to you, Beyim.” 

“What did you want from me?” 

“I don’t know, Beyim.” 

“Did you want charity?” 

“If you give me something, I will thank you, but I 
have not come for that.” 

“Why have you come, then, my boy?” 

“They are talking of you in the town.” 

“What are they saying about me?” 

“They say that you have much patience with the 
blind, and that you make them see the light.” 
“Nothing else, my boy?” 

“They say that you take blind children and become 
their father. Is that true, Beyim?” 

“Yes, my boy, that is true. Would you too like to 
come to me?” 

“Yes, Beyim.” 

“My children are not allowed to beg.” 

“If you give me to eat, I shall not beg.” 

“But my children are not allowed to curse either.” 
“I am no Kiifutschi, Beyim. I only curse when people 
hurt me.” 

“Now listen to me, my boy. I must go on a long 
journey and therefore cannot take you with me right 
now. When I come back to Malatia (Christoffel had 
established a home for the blind there, called 
Bethesda), I shall call for you. Will you come?” 


“May Allah grant you a long life, Beyim. I shall 

“You will not forget?” 

“I shall not forget.” 

So there we made a covenant, the little blind boy and 
I; and he left me after I had given him a little money 
so that he need not beg in the following days. I sat 
in front of my tent a long time that evening. It was 
a beautiful night. I reflected on the pictures of the 
day that had passed. In long lines they passed by my 
inner eye: the blind, the disinherited, the faltering 
aged, men and women, the miserable and heavy 
laden and the children groping for a way of life, a 
life of darkness. And then I saw the Saviour, the 
great stature of light, the inviting Saviour and I heard 
his words: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and 
are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And the 
Saviour’s command overwhelmed me once again: 
“Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind — 
so you will be blessed.” 

Rasul Oemer oghlu never went the way to Bethesda. 
The great World War broke out and prevented it. Is 
he still alive? I do not know. And if he is still alive, 
does he remember our covenant? I do not know. 
But among the masses of innumerable children who 
are stretching out their hands for help I clearly see 
his boyish face, so dear and forlorn, and I hear his 
voice: “I have never seen the light.” 

The original German text may be found in: 

“Christoffel. Aus der Werkstatt eines 
Missionars", Bensheim/Germany 1971, 
pp. 46-48. 

Reproduced with kind permission of 
the Christoffel-Blindenmission 


Part I : Theological basis 


Leslie Newbigin 

“He saved others; himself he cannot save.” In that mocking phrase 
flung at the crucified Jesus there was expressed — all unknowingly 
— the central paradox of the Gospel. 

Jesus had come to the world as Saviour. The message of his coming 
is the power of God for salvation. In the Gospel records we see 
him portrayed as the mighty warrior who has robbed the enemy of 
his power, and who comes forth victorious to set free his victims, 
to make the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk, to heal the 
leper, to raise the dead to new life. No human bondage is beyond 
his relief. Never in the stories of his ministry do we read that the 
victim of any affliction came to Jesus and was advised to accept 
the affliction as the will of God. Always and everywhere his 
response to human bondage of any kind was to break the fetters 
and set the prisoner free. He saved others. He was and is Saviour. 

And yet he cannot, or will not, save himself from the hostile powers 
that close in upon him as his ministry proceeds. The net that his 
enemies contrived is steadily tightening around him. Finally he is 
bound, nailed helpless to a cross and left to die. The Saviour 
cannot save himself. 

• Leslie Newbigin was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (England) in 1909. 
Following theological studies, he became pastor in the Reformed Church of 
Scotland and, in 1937, went out to India as a missionary. When the United 
Church of South India was formed, Newbigin was made bishop, first in 
Madurai and Rumnad and later in Madras. For five years he worked as 
Director of the Department of World Mission and Evangelism of the WCC in 
Geneva. Since 1974 he has been in very active retirement in Birmingham 
(England) where he teaches in Selly Oak Colleges. From 1948 Newbigin has 
been a collaborator in key areas of the ecumenical movement, and especially 
in the Commission on Faith and Order. 


The same paradox is present in the words with which Jesus (accord- 
ing to the synoptic Gospels) sent out his disciples on their mission. 
They are given authority over the powers of evil to release men and 
women from all that holds them in bondage; but they themselves 
are promised bondage, imprisonment, rejection and death. The 
saving power of God is to be carried and communicated by those 
who have no power to save themselves. 

So also in the writings of the apostle Paul. He is the bearer of a 
commission which carries the power and authority of God to 
subdue all the powers that oppose it. Yet it is the characteristic 
mark of that commission that it is discharged in weakness, fear 
and trembling (I Cor. 2:3). This is not accidental. It belongs to the 
character of the message of the Cross that its bearer reflects the 
weakness and helplessness of the Crucified. The authenticity of 
the messenger is certified by the fact that he shares in the sufferings 
of the Christ. It is by the endurance of affliction that Paul and his 
fellow workers are recognizable as servants of God (II Cor. 6 : 4ff). 
There is a specially sharp example of this general rule in the “thorn 
in the flesh” which afflicted Paul. What exactly this was we do not 
know; we know only that it was an affliction from which he prayed 
to be delivered, but which he was called upon to suffer in order 
that the power of Christ might be revealed precisely in this weak- 

What is true for Christ and his messengers is true also for the whole 
Church. The life of the Church is expounded — for example in 
Romans 8 — as a participation in the afflictions of Christ through 
which we share in the travail of the whole creation as the new 
creation struggles to be born. It is precisely in the midst of affliction 
that we are filled with hope and are enabled to know that everything 
works together for good to those who love God (Rom. 8 : 22ff, 
and 28). It is therefore as the bearer of affliction that the Church 
is a sign of hope for all humanity and for the whole creation. The 
strange truth about the Church is that when it can claim to be 
strong it is weak, and when it shares in the weakness of Christ it 
is truly the bearer of the power of God for the salvation of men and 
women everywhere. 

The question of the place of the handicapped in the life of the 
Church raises sharply the question of whether or not the Church 
is being true to its fundamental character. Is the presence of the 
cross as a sign on its buildings, and on its altars and in its worship 
an empty sign by which the Church is condemned? Does the Church 
in fact try to display to the world a kind of power to which the 
cross is really irrelevant or contradictory ? Does the use of the sign 
of the cross express what we truly are? Does the Church know that 
all power is ultimately deceptive except the power of the cross? 


We shall be on the way to answering that question when we have 
answered the question of the place of the handicapped in the 
Church. How does the Church understand the presence of the 
handicapped in its membership? 

Let me at this point say briefly how I understand the term “the 
handicapped” in this discussion. I understand it to refer to people 
(men, women and children) who suffer from any kind of depri- 
vation — physical, mental, social or material — which is not at 
this moment curable with the resources and skills available to us. 
There are those among us who must — for the present at least — 
continue to suffer. There are ills for which no cure is in sight even 
in the most optimistic view of human capability. There are also 
many ills, especially ills resulting from the disorder of our economic 
life, which would certainly be cured if society were re-ordered. We 
may work and hope for this re-ordering. But meanwhile there are 
victims of our disorder for whom at this moment there is no pros- 
pect of relief. I am including these also in the scope of the dis- 

Does the doctrine of the Church provide an essential place for these? 
Or are they rather those about whom we do not speak, the excep- 
tional, the marginal? Do we see the Church as essentially the Church 
of the strong and the well, and are the handicapped simply those 
who are — unfortunately — not yet strong and well? Do we, even at 
our best, see them as those towards whom we have a duty? Or do we 
recognize in them members in the Body of Christ without whose 
gift we are maimed? It must be confessed that during recent decades, 
especially in the period which has gloried in the discovery of the 
secularity of the Gospel, the Church has given little thought to the 
role of the handicapped as an indispensable part in the full life of 
Christ. We have lived through the period of the “revolution of 
expectations”. Flushed with the astounding achievements of 
science and technology, we have been led to believe in the possibi- 
lity of a world without limits and with no handicaps, a world in 
which health, wealth and plenty would be the achieved right of 
every human being. Our emphasis has been on the right of every 
human being to a life free from every kind of handicap. We 
recognize that for thousands of years the majority of human beings 
have accepted poverty, hunger, disease and high infant mortality 
as part of the fixed order of creation which had simply to be 
endured. But we know that today millions in every continent 
have — at least in their hearts — rebelled against these tyrannies. 
We have turned eagerly to those parts of scripture and the Christian 
tradition which proclaim God’s word of liberation from these 
hostile powers. We have seen the Church as the place where the 
sick are healed, the lame walk and the oppressed are set free. And 


who can deny that this vision is in line with the biblical and evangeli- 
cal message of salvation? No summary of the Christian message is 
more frequently quoted today than the brief message delivered by 
Jesus at the outset of his ministry in Galilee: “The spirit of the 
Lord is upon me because he has annointed me to preach good 
news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, 
the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those that are 
oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. 

If the Church is the bearer of this message how are we to regard 
the handicapped, the crippled, the blind, the deaf, the illiterate, the 
hopelessly deprived — except as the bearers of our failure and our 
guilt? How, then, can we deal with them except by keeping them 
in the background, out of sight and, as far as possible, out of mind? 
Or — if we cannot do that — shall we see them as those who are 
to be pitied, upon whom we look down as the unfortunate, the 
stragglers of the human march? From this it is a short step to 
something much less humane — to an attitude of contempt and 
even resentment. Our resources of pity are limited and soon 
exhausted. The appeal of the hopelessly crippled, the incurably 
blind, or the starving child for whom relief will come too late, can 
evoke for a time our pity and compassion. But not for ever. We 
cannot allow the image of our own sufficiency to be too deeply 
threatened, so we do what we can to hide the threat from our eyes. 
If the handicapped are our neighbours, we lock them away in 
institutions and pay others to guard them; if they are far away, 
we merely turn our television sets to another programme. 

And so we try to safeguard our image of ourselves, the image of 
us as we ought to be — healthy, strong and free from all defects, 
but a pagan image. We thereby reject the image of ourselves as we 
truly are in Jesus Christ — the one who bears the karma of 
humanity, who is wounded for our transgressions and bruised for 
our iniquity, the man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief. 

But to evoke this other image is at once to call up a whole series of 
memories which must cause us to hesitate. One thinks of the Christ 
of the medieval crucifix — a limp pain-drenched figure, crushed 
and defeated by the power of evil. One thinks of the centuries in 
which the Church has advised people to accept suffering, poverty, 
exploitation and disease as the will of God. One thinks of the whole 
sorry story that gives credibility to the gibe that religion is opium, 
a drug which enables the exploited of the world to accept their lot 
and not to rise up in rebellion against it. One remembers with 
shame how the Church has permitted the rich and the strong to 
oppress the poor and the weak with the comfortable assurance 
that Christ is specially near to those who suffer. And we turn again 


to the stories of the Gospel to see Jesus as the mighty Saviour who 
never asks those who come to him to accept their illness as God’s 
will, but treats it as the work of the devil, and with words and deeds 
of power puts the enemy to flight and sets his captives free. 

Here then we have two contradictory images. There is the image 
of men and women as healthy, strong, free, and of the Church as 
a society which rejects every sort of sickness, weakness and bondage 
and fights for the abundance of life for all. And there is the vision 
of people suffering and in bondage for the sake of others, and of 
the Church which accepts this role and seeks to help its members to 
accept suffering and bondage and to find the presence of Christ in 
that acceptance. Each can produce its own horrible caricature of 
humanity; yet both can find a basis in the ministry of our Lord 

How are these apparently contradictory images related — in the 
ministry of Jesus, in our own experience, and in the life of the 

The ministry of Jesus begins with his baptism in Jordan, in which 
he accepts total identification with ordinary men and women in 
their bondage to sin and their estrangement from God. In that 
baptism he accepts proleptically the weakness and God-forsaken- 
ness of the cross. Immediately he is driven into the wilderness 
where he is exposed unarmed to the full spiritual power of evil. 
He comes forth from that trial having totally discarded all the 
weapons with which most people seek to subdue the forces that 
threaten human life. In this also he is faithful to that calling which 
has its completion on the cross. But he does not go straight from 
his temptations to his death. On the contrary he throws himself 
into a mission of teaching, healing and exorcism which is directed 
to the task of recalling Israel to its vocation as bearer of the 
covenant of blessing for all the nations. He moves through the 
towns and villages of Galilee and up to Jerusalem, accomplishing 
works of power which he interprets as the breaking into history 
of the mighty sovereign will of God. To this end he is mighty to 
heal, to cleanse and to save. Even at the moment of his arrest in 
the garden he stretches out a hand to heal the wound inflicted by 
Peter’s sword. To the very end, he saves others. But he does not act 
to save himself. The traps set by his enemies close upon him. He 
goes forward knowing, but not seeking to evade, what they have 
planned for him. The hands that had been stretched forth to give 
life to others are stretched forth in helplessness for his death. Even 
on the cross, when only his lips can move, they are active to bring 
absolution to a penitent thief and comfort to a desolate mother. 
But finally there is the great cry “Father into thy hands I commit 


my spirit”, and the lips are still. His ministry is complete, his 
battle won. And he — the weak, the defeated, the forsaken — is 
manifested as the power, the wisdom, the righteousness of God in 
his resurrection from the dead. 

To the very end, his relation to the powers that enslave and oppress 
men is that he rebels against them, breaks their power and releases 
their victims. But at the end there is a cry of acceptance. He accepts 
death and commits all — himself, his disciples, his mission — into 
the Father’s hands. And this is because he is the agent and witness 
and bearer of a final victory, an eschatological liberation, of which 
his resurrection is the first-fruit and pledge. That final liberation 
cannot be replaced by the liberations which are possible within 
human history. It can never be wholly enjoyed within the present 
age. It can nevertheless be tasted, known and exercised now, a 
foretaste which points forward to the accomplished freedom of the 
children of God. Until that final and blessed consummation, the 
dichotomy, the paradox remains: he saved others, himself he 
cannot save. The resolution of that paradox lies beyond history. 

Here is the clue to the paradox of our Christian experience of 
strength in weakness. It is spelled out in many passages of Paul’s 
letters. Let me take only one example, typical of many. In the 
Colossian letter the apostle speaks of his own suffering as a prisoner 
in chains. He does not rebel against it but accepts it as the current 
form of his apostolate. It is thus, as a helpless captive, that his 
Lord has called upon him — for the present — to serve. And yet 
this is no supine or passive acceptance. It is the context for an 
intensely active ministry of caring, of praying, of preaching, in 
which — as he says — “I toil, striving with all the energy which 
Christ mightily inspires in me” (Col. 1 : 24-29). 

A faith which surrenders and a faith which fights — in a normal 
perspective these two would seem to be contradictory. Here they 
are fused together in a single discipleship which is modelled upon 
and made possible by that once-for-all victory-in-defeat upon the 
cross of Jesus, a victory which points beyond itself to that which 
is now hidden but is to be made manifest (Col. 3 : 1-4). How is 
this paradoxical character of the life of Christ to be reflected in the 
life of the Church? 

If the Church is to be true to him whose cross is the central sign of 
the Church’s life, it must be a place where there is both the faith 
that rebels against limits and the faith that accepts limits; a place 
where there is a courageous and relentless battle against all that 
enslaves men — whether the bondage be physical, mental, social 
or economic — and also a trustful acceptance of that bondage. 


It must be a community that knows the time and place to fight, 
and the time and place to surrender, which does not surrender 
where it should fight, and does not fight where it should surrender. 

To be more explicit — 

The Church cannot be only the society that fights and rebels. If 
this is the whole of its understanding of its calling, the inevitable 
consequence is that those for whom deliverance is at this moment 
impossible are marginalized, ignored or exploited. They may be 
marginalized: they are treated as material for “mere ambulance 
work”, “palliative measures”. Their existence is recognized, but 
they are seen as irrelevant to the real business. That business is to 
ensure that — for the future — such bondage is made impossible. 
They function primarily as illustrations of the task to be completed 
rather than as living human beings to be cared for now. They may 
be ignored: they simply disappear from the picture, which is full 
to the limit with battle-scenes in the struggle for liberation. Or, 
finally, they may be exploited. Action to bring relief and comfort to 
the sufferers is treated as not just irrelevant but as positively 
harmful. It is considered as merely serving to patch up the rotten 
system. Rather let things get worse, let people suffer, until the 
suffering becomes intolerable and the violence of resentment 
destroys the whole system. As I write this paper I notice a typical 
example from a recent Christian writer: “In this situation, welfare 
measures are positively harmful because they help to preserve an 
unjust status quo” } It is sad to find in a Christian statement such 
a combination of moral cynicism and political naivety. Truly 
“revolution” is the opium of the well-fed intellectual. 

But, equally, the Church cannot be only the society that preaches 
resignation, that seeks to comfort the sufferer so that affliction 
becomes bearable. If this is its whole role, then the Church becomes 
the tacit accomplice of cruelty. The injustice which ought to be 
destroyed is condoned. The sickness which could be prevented by 
proper programmes of public health and medical care is accepted 
as the will of God. The Church becomes a pedlar of sedatives 
when surgery is needed. 

To be faithful to the Gospel, the Church must be the place both of 
the faith that rebels and of the faith that accepts; and it cannot be 
this unless the handicapped are, and are seen to be, an integral and 
indispensable part of its life. This is an insight which is urgently 

1 Urban Industrial Mission News, National Christian Council of India, March- 
June 1976. 


needed at a time when the dominant theological currents have been 
towards the celebration of its role as liberator, healer, and champion 
of justice. The handicapped, the oppressed, the deprived are utterly 
indispensable to the Church’s authentic life, not simply as those 
on behalf of whom the Church is called to labour in healing and 
in action for justice, but as those who now, as the deprived and 
handicapped within the membership of the Church, have a part to 
play, and a witness to give without which the Church will simply 
not be fully Christian. This part and this witness include both what 
they can teach of faithful courage in the overcoming of appalling 
obstacles, and also what they can teach of faithful obedience in 
humbly accepting from God the limits within which he has called 
them to work out their discipleship. Without that witness from 
within its own membership, the Church’s witness is distorted and 
deceptive, and the Church’s discipleship is irrelevant to the real 
world in which men and women live and suffer. For it is only when 
the witness of the handicapped is an integral part of the witness of 
the whole Church, that this witness is true to the Gospel of the 
Crucified who is risen, the risen Lord who is the Crucified. Only 
with this witness as part of its total message does the Church’s 
message measure up to the heights and depths of the human situ- 
ation. Only so can we offer a hope which embraces the generations 
still to come and the multitudes in the generation now living who 
must — whatever happens — live out their days within the narrow 
limits set by their affliction. 

At this point I can only move to the language of personal testimony, 
but I am sure that as I do so I echo the experience of countless 
other men and women. It has been my great privilege to minister 
in places where there are extremes of deprivation — in the slums 
of Madras, among the Harijan communities of South Indian 
villages, among the victims of leprosy and among many who — 
even in the poorest village or slum — were at the very bottom of 
the heap. In my relations with them I have always felt that I have 
received more than I could give. In contact with them I knew that 
I was in contact with Jesus himself. No doubt there were things 
which I could do and which I tried to do for them. But when I 
came away from the meeting I knew that it was I who had gained. 
I am saying something which most of my readers will probably 
recognize as true without further comment. If comment must be 
made, one might simply say that in such a meeting I am delivered 
from the illusions and anxieties which assail me when I live in the 
midst of my own programmes, my own achievements, my own 
capacity for getting things done. I am — for the time at least — 
placed in a world where the Crucified is known as the Lord, where 
I know that there is no way to live except by grace, the grace of 
him who gives freely to the beggar but is hidden from the man who 


has made himself secure. The poor, the deprived, the handicapped 
are not primarily a problem to be solved by the rich, the comfort- 
able and the strong. They are the bearers of a witness without which 
the strong are lost in their own illusions. They are the trustees of a 
blessing without which the Church cannot bless the world. Their 
presence in the Church is the indispensable corrective of our 
inveterate tendency to identify the power of God with our power, 
the victory of God with our success. Because they keep us close 
to the reality of the cross they can bring to us also, if we are willing 
to see, the light of the new day which dawns from beyond our 
horizons and which is close to us in the resurrection of the Cru- 

In a large multi-storey block of flats in a poor section of London 
there is a man who is incurably crippled. As in most of such huge 
tenements, human life is dehumanized. Neighbours have few 
incentives to meet, children few opportunities to play together. 
Real human community is hard to find. But in this block there is 
a difference. The crippled man — unable to leave his flat — keeps 
his door permanently open. Children and their parents come in 
and out at all times of the day to talk to him and tell him their 
troubles. He has become the human heart of a body which other- 
wise would be desperately short of love. His sickness is health for 
that community. The hopelessly handicapped man is the means of 
wholeness for those who otherwise would be trapped in a dehu- 
manizing structure. 

Probably every reader can recall comparable instances of the 
ministry of the weak to the strong. It is the illusion of the strong, 
the whole, the healthy to see themselves in the centre and to see the 
handicapped as those on the margin. The Church should be freed 
from that illusion by the presence in the centre of its life of the 
cross, and of him who suffered there. If the Church does not ensure 
that the handicapped have a place at the very heart of its life then 
it denies and dishonours him who reigns from the cross, who saved 
others, but would not save himself. 



When I was a child people would often ask Mother, 
in a tone just above a whisper, about my handicap. 
She would respond in a normal tone of voice, “ Oh, 
Virginia was born with cerebral palsy. It isn’t a 
secret, and she understands that having been born 
with a disability is not something one needs to be 
ashamed of. ” Thus it was from my earliest re- 
collection, I was accepted by my parents, my two 
younger sisters and a younger brother. I was taken 
to all the places the others were, and was treated as 
they were, which included discipline. The latter was 
quite important, so my mother thought, as I was a 
very stubborn child determined to have my own way. 
Mother was equally determined that I was going to 
adjust to life as it was, not as I wished it to be. This 
was the first step, I believe, in learning to accept 
myself as a person with a disability living in a normal 

The church we attended aiso played an important 
role in my development. Because my family accepted 
me, so did the members of the church. In time this 
led to my acceptance of Jesus as Saviour and Lord, 
full church membership and an active participation 
in the life of the Church. 

Probably because of the love, caring and friendship 
which I found in the Church, in my early teens I felt 
that I wanted to enter some form of Christian min- 
istry, in order that I could help others find that which 
had brought acceptance and joy into my life. 

Actually, I cannot remember a time prior to college 
years when I questioned why I had been born with 
cerebral palsy. The question must have been in 
either my conscious or subconscious mind when 
one day in my late teens, I was reading the Gospel 


of St John and came across the first three verses 
of the ninth chapter: 

As Jesus walked along he saw a man who had been 
born blind. His disciples asked him: “ Teacher , 
whose sin was it that caused him to be born blind ? 
His own or his parents’ sin ? Jesus answered: His 
blindness has nothing to do with his sin or his 
parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might 
be seen at work in him .” (The New Testament in 
Today’s English Version.) 

Suddenly, I felt God himself was speaking to me, 
and was saying that if I would commit myself to him, 
he would use me in a special way. 

But how could a person whose greatest disability 
was one of poor speech be used by the Church? 
I didn’t have the answer, yet I felt driven to enter 
Union Theological Seminary in New York City 
against the advice of many people. 

In the early months of my second year at seminary, I 
turned to a trusted and beloved minister friend, 
whose judgement I highly respected and asked: “Do 
you believe there is a place of service for me within 
the Church?” The response was spoken slowly, 
clearly and with great feeling, “I just don’t know.” 
I had been given an honest answer, but not the one 
I had hoped to hear! 

During the next few days I spent much time thinking 
about and praying about what to do. Had God called 
me or was this a feeling which had absolutely no 
basis in reality? The following week during a semin- 
ary morning chapel service, I felt as if a hand were 
placed on my right shoulder, and a voice said, “! 
will call you. You are to finish your seminary course 
and never again question this call.” I feel sure that 
many could and would give a psychological expla- 
nation for this experience. I, however, firmly believe 
that the Lord himself spoke to me that morning. The 


older I grow and the more opportunities I have for 
service, the more certain I am that God did speak 
to me and does speak and lead when we need his 

I cannot say, nor will I say, that I am glad that I have 
a disability, or that God could not have used me as 
a “normal” person. I do not believe that God wants 
that any of his children either be born or become 
disabled. I believe he allows one to have a handicap 
but does not ordain suffering and handicaps. Rather, 
it is my belief that through a disability God’s power 
can work, perhaps in ways which we will never fully 

It is most distressing, however, to be praised for 
things done and accomplishments made which I am 
fully able to perform in spite of my handicap and 
which I know deep within my heart God is expecting, 
yea, commanding me to carry out. 

With this theological premise, I am aware of my 
limitations, but freed, in the words taken from the 
Statement of Faith of The United Church of Christ, 
“to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be his 
servant in the service of men”. 

This then is the account of the hope that lies within 

Virginia Kreyer 



Ulrich Bach 

To Ernst Kasemann and Elisabeth Kasemann, in gratitude. 

Faith and Practice 

Many Christians feel that there is an enormous disparity between 
the message of the New Testament and the place which handicapped 
people occupy, or rather fail to occupy, in our congregations 
today. Paul says: “There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave 
and freeman, male and female” (nor would it misrepresent him, 
but rather bring him up to date, to add: “there is neither handi- 
capped or non-handicapped”) “for you are all one person in 
Christ” (Gal. 3 : 28). Differences, however deep, whether religious, 
social or physical, have no divisive role in a real congregation of 
Jesus Christ. But what about our congregations today? Which of 
them is sensitive enough to the interests of handicapped people? 
In which of them do we find handicapped people fully integrated 
into youth groups, women’s groups, men’s groups? At a more 
mundane level, which church buildings and church halls have 
hearing aids and carriage ramps? Are we not constantly practising 
segregation in ways which, in the light of the Gospel, we profess to 
regard as among the “old things” which through Christ have 
“passed away” (2 Cor. 5 : 17). 

This gap between profession and practice has often been noted 
and commented on, but what conclusions do we draw from it? 
More often than not we say to ourselves and others that the situ- 

Translated from the German by WCC Language Service 

• Ulrich Bach is pastor in the orthopaedic institutions in Volmarstein in the 
Ruhr district of West Germany, and also New Testament Lecturer in the 
training school for deacons and social workers there. During the time of his 
theological studies, he was struck by polio and is now confined to a wheel chair. 
The Volmarstein institutions cater for around 1000 physically disabled 
persons and have about an equal number of staff. 


ation must be improved, that we must really do more for these 
handicapped people. In other words, we draw legalistic conclusions: 
you must, I must, we must. . . 

The purpose of this essay is to suggest another solution, a solution 
rooted in the Gospel, one which involves in the first place not 
action (what should we do?) but a style of life (who are we? what 
pattern do we impose on our lives?); a solution which, instead of 
taking for granted a confrontation between two groups (we the 
normal people and the others who have problems and for whom 
we must show concern), thinks in terms of the solidarity of all 
(our life is vastly diverse; our world is not a drawing room so much 
as a temporary hut in which survival is possible only if we assume 
mutual responsibility for one another). 

Faith — in Yahweh or Baal? 

It is a widespread misconception that people with very different 
theologies can easily agree in their conception of diaconia * * . I would 
maintain the exact opposite. Our whole theology, the way we think 
and speak about God, already implies a prior decision which 
determines how we think about and practise diaconia, or fail to 
think and act in a diaconal way. In what way, then, do we think 
and speak about God? In a panel discussion at the German 
Evangelical Kirchentag in Hanover in 1967, Ernst Kasemann 
pointed out: “In the Bible we are constantly confronted by God 
in two forms: as Baal and as Yahweh, as the God of Jesus or as the 
God who takes the form of idols. . . I prefer to commit myself to 
the God to whom Jesus called out on the cross, and to no other. 
It is pointless to discuss in abstract terms whether or not God 
exists. . . but there must be no shirking of the question who God is, 
Yahweh or Baal”. 1 

How do we speak about God? When we speak of Jesus, do we 
really mean the Crucified, or do we mean a semi-christianized 
Baal? How important this question is may be shown by a com- 
parison between two incidents which are ultimately quite incom- 
parable. Only in one respect is there an affinity between them, 

1 E. Kasemann in Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag Hannover 1967, Doku- 
mente , Stuttgart and Berlin 1967, p. 456f. Also ibid. Kasemann’s essay on 
“The presence of Christ — the Cross” (p. 424ff). 

* The Greek word ‘diakonia’ is here used to describe the entire service of 
Christians and churches to persons and groups who need help, assistance, care. 
The term 1 diakonia’ connotes the conviction that the Christian community has 
to reflect Jesus Christ who is the supreme l diakonos' , the servant of all. Ed. 


namely, in the way God is regarded. In Matthew’s Gospel we are 
told how, when Jesus announced his coming passion for the first 
time, Peter told him: “Heaven forbid!... No, Lord, this shall 
never happen to you”. Whereupon Jesus told Peter: “Away with 
you, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You think as men 
think, not as God thinks” (Mt. 16 : 22f.). 

In a commercial class in the Volmarstein Rehabilitation Centre, 
I asked for written answers to the question: What does God mean 
to us today? A physically disabled girl in a wheel chair handed in 
the following response (which seems to me clearly to represent her 
own distress rather than someone else’s): “God doesn’t mean very 
much to me. When people are desperate, of course, they do say: 
Lord God, why don’t you help me? Sometimes a person will think 
God has answered prayer simply because his dearest wishes have 
been fulfilled. But what does that really amount to? Nothing at 
all! Why does the Almighty, who even calls himself a father, let 
innocent infants be murdered, or crippled by war or even die 
horrible deaths, or starve to death? Is that what a father would do? 
Of course not, that’s what a devil does.” 

Dissimilar as these two incidents are in so many respects, both 
Peter and the girl speak about God in the same way. Both of them 
believe that God and suffering are incompatible, at least if God 
is gracious and called father. God must (or will) prevent the 
crucifixion of Jesus. God’s responsibility is to fulfil our dearest 
wishes, to see to it that things work out as we think fit and proper. 
If he fails to do so, if he permits the exact opposite to happen, it 
makes no sense to call him God. The only name he deserves is 
devil. God must prevent us from suffering. 

When we speak in this way about God we are really speaking about 
Baal. 2 We are changing God into Baal. Baal is the god of power 
who promises to provide stable conditions. We are not ashamed to 
be seen in his company. Baal provides following winds. Yahweh, 
on the contrary, is obscure. Yahweh leads us into the wilderness, 
to the cross. Yahweh promises no impregnable positions; he is the 
God of the exodus, calling his people away from the fleshpots of 

2 See: P. Philippi, Christo zentrische Diakonie. 2nd ed., 1975, p. 91: “Filled 
with the messianic hopes of his people everything in Peter ‘must’ rebel against 
the elements of humiliation which is contained in the new preaching of Jesus.” 
While the reader will certainly have already seen this, it will be as well to 
state explicitly that “Baal” should really be in quotation marks throughout 
this essay. Whenever this term is used, the reference is not to what OT Israel’s 
neighbours meant to assert of their god (or gods) when they used the term. 
I use “Baal” to signify (the same applies to the quotations from Kasemann) 


Egypt into his covenant (cf. Ex. 16:3), away from riches to a 
personal relationship, away from security to confidence, away 
from “having” to “being”. 

Faith and Diaconia 

To distinguish in this way between different ways of speaking 
about God is no mere academic hairsplitting but, on the contrary, 
has direct consequences for our diaconal (or undiaconal) life 
styles and for what we do. Put bluntly: tell me how you talk about 
God and I’ll tell you what your diaconia is like, or what handi- 
capped people can expect from you, or whether you expect anything 
from them. 

I must emphasize here that the point I am making is not that, 
because some Christians change Yahweh into Baal their diaconia 
is counterproductive, while that of others is authentic because 
they are real disciples of the Crucified. The contrast is not 
between two sets of people but between two types of theology and, 
consequently, between two types of diaconia. We all hanker after 
a Baal-type god. We want a god who will ensure that things work 
out well for us and for others, a god who prevents suffering in our 
own life and in that of our fellows — or who at least makes suffer- 
ing bearable. We shall never be free of this hankering for a Baal- 
type god so long as we live. This can also be seen from Jesus’ reply 
to Peter. Peter’s conviction that “God” and “cross” are incom- 
patible is described by Jesus not as foolish or mistaken but as 
typically human. As long as we live our faith will to some extent 
remain akin to that of protesting Peter and that of the resentful 
girl. We shall never succeed completely in eliminating this element 
of Baal. The task we have been set is an energetic movement, a 
process in which, while it is difficult at any given moment to 
define our position, we can certainly indicate the direction in 
which we are moving, namely, away from Baal and towards the 

Faith in Baal and Diaconia 

Let me illustrate what I mean by these two different theological 
bases for diaconia: the Baal theology and the Yahweh theology. 

all talk of God which confines him within human concepts; which projects a 
picture of God in accordance with human needs and human standards of good 
and evil, truth and falsehood, happiness and suffering. It is therefore permis- 
sible to say that Peter believed in “Baal” when he protested against Jesus’ talk 
of suffering or that our interpretation of the Apostles’ Creed can be influenced 
by our faith in “Baal”. One could also say that Baal-concepts could have crept 
into biblical sayings about God. (E. Kasemann, op. cit. p. 457, describes the 
logic of Gamaliel in Acts 5 : 38f “a typically atheist response”.) 


If we are thinking in terms of a Baal theology when we recite the 
Apostles’ Creed, what faith are we really confessing? 

God the Creator — all that this can now mean is that God has 
created plenty to meet the needs of everybody. Neither morally 
nor in any other sense, therefore, is there really anything radically 
wrong, but at most only blemishes, whether they are small or 

How do we respond then when suddenly confronted with some- 
thing which is, nevertheless, radically different? For example, a 
person handicapped from birth? A few years ago, pastors of a 
West German Regional Church were sent a colour slide showing 
a girl of about thirteen years of age. She had no arms but a couple 
of fingers on each shoulder. The picture was entitled “Damaged 
Creation”. In other words, this child in this form is not a satis- 
factory creation. God intended it otherwise, wanted it otherwise, 
but there has been damage which God was powerless to prevent. 
At the time this picture was taken, the girl in question was attending 
confirmation class in a small group which included my own 
daughter. What were we to tell her about the first article of the 
Creed? My daughter was expected and able to say, in the words of 
Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me”, as I am. 
What was her classmate to say? “I believe that God wanted to 
create me, too, quite normal, but. . .”? While not wishing to go 
deeply into this problem here, one thing is clear, namely, that the 
question of whether a handicapped person is or is not integrated 
into a congregation does not depend only on the amount of time, 
money, education, and so on which we are prepared to make 
available but, at least as much, on the thoughts we think or speak 
or print. 

God the Reconciler — What are we really affirming when, thinking 
of Baal, we recite the second article of the Creed? From the heights 
of the divine majesty, the Son of God steps down into our depths. 
(It is not easy actually to explain clearly just why this was necessary 
if God created the world as perfectly as we say). He identifies 
himself with the outcasts, with the specific purpose of transforming 
their “below” into the “above”. Of course, he makes all the sick 
people well again (what else!), 3 and gives sinners the power to do 

3 The view that Jesus’ role can be described exclusively as that of a miracle 
worker, frequent though it is, is nevertheless a mistaken one. It represents 
an enormous obstacle to Christian consideration of the problems of the 
handicapped. For many disabled and handicapped people it makes access to 
Christian faith almost impossible. “If Jesus healed all the disabled then, why 
does he not do so today?” This argument is frequently used by young handi- 
capped people to absent themselves from religious instruction in schools. It 
seems to me a matter of urgency to introduce into our preaching, our teaching, 
and our pastoral care, much more prominently than hitherto, the findings of 


better. Jesus’ purpose was to lift everyone up on high. This leaves 
us no other way of explaining his cross of shame than to regard 
even this merely as a transition — shocking and painful, certainly, 
but still only a transition — now in every sense a thing of the past 
thanks to the “happy ending” of Easter Day. Our pattern is, of 
course, Jesus the Victor. 

God the Redeemer — when a Baal theology underlies our under- 
standing of this third article of the Creed, a similar pattern emerges. 
The work of the Holy Spirit in us is to enable us to imitate the 
example of Jesus. The Spirit is the power which makes us stable 
and secure. The Church is God’s robust army, his band, launched 
by him into this world for mission and diaconia. Diaconia becomes 
an impressive repair programme; almost everything can be put 
right for most of humanity, and for the unfortunate remainder 
there is still the glorious hope of the last day. 

As an invalid in a wheelchair, I have felt almost a physical shock 
at the way this kind of so-called theology (reflected in many hymns, 
service books, sermons, articles and conversations) not only fails 
to provide any practical help but constitutes a definite hindrance 
to a handicapped person’s efforts to be a Christian. In fact a 
theology or piety of the Baal-type drives the handicapped person 
to the margin spiritually in a number of ways. 

If we believe that the world is free from any radical defects, this 
means that the handicapped person constitutes an exception, a 
marginal figure in the world, because he has to suffer from a 
radical defect. 

If we believe that God is a god who wants to lift everyone up on 
high then, for a handicapped person, this means either that he or 
Jesus has failed. Either he, who so often seems to be still “in the 
depths” both inwardly (in his mood) and outwardly (in his limited 
capacities and his dependence) has failed to make use of the power 
given to him and to all others by Jesus, or else Jesus has not 
achieved his goal, at least so far as the handicapped person is 
concerned . * * * 4 

scholars who have concluded that the gospels were not intended to be “merely 

a collection of amazing events” (E. Schweitzer, The Good News According to 

Mark, 1970, John Knox Press, Richmond, Virginia, p. 383. 

4 There is surely no need to discuss in evangelical circles the even more absurd 
idea that the handicapped person is being punished by God or is bearing 
some part of the sin of the world (concept of co-redemption) by his suffering. 
To assert either of these notions would clearly pre-suppose that God’s relation- 
ship to the handicapped is quite different from his relationship to the non- 
handicapped. No degree of subsequent diaconal effort could possibly establish 
any real integration of groups sundered in this fashion. 


Finally, if we believe that an essential feature of being a Christian 
is God’s commission to mission and diaconia, this means that the 
handicapped person becomes the object of the help willed by God 
and supplied by the non-handicapped Christian. There is no 
mention here of any commission the handicapped person might 
have in relation to other persons, whether handicapped or non- 
handicapped. In principle he is assigned a different role from that 
of the non-handicapped person, the role of an object rather than 
the role of a subject. 

Not only anthropology (the doctrine of man) and christology (the 
doctrine of Christ), but even pneumatology (the doctrine of the 
Holy Spirit) and ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church) brand 
the handicapped person as “non-normal”, “special category”, 
“outsider ”. 5 

The Lowliness of God 

How far our theology and preaching unconsciously reflect a Baal 
substitute may be seen from the way we speak of the lowliness of 
God. Of course we say that the infant Jesus lay in a manger, that 
Jesus blessed the children, that he kept company with sinners, 
that he will judge us at the last by what we have done or failed to 
do to the least of his brethren, that he died on a cross, and that 
even in Old Testament times God was on little David’s side, not 
Goliath’s. But do we not speak of all this in the manner of a 
journalist reporting how a monarch visited a hospital ward and 
actually fed a patient, then visited a blind people’s home and 
actually spent half an hour reading to a young mother? The 
monarch is still a monarch. His essential tasks are those of govern- 
ing. Of course, it is to his credit that he should concern himself 
with handicapped people, but there is an air of benevolent whimsy 
about it. Do we not talk about God in a similar way? His real nature 
is defined in concepts such as “almighty”, “miracle”, and “tri- 
umph”. Manger and cross may still be essential for our salvation 

5 The reflections presented in the text about the Apostles’ Creed and “Baal” 
cannot possibly be used to argue that it is exclusively the fault of Christians 
that handicapped people are kept apart even in our way of thinking and 
speaking. On the contrary, it is possible to show from countless distinctly 
non-Christian opinions and habits of speech that many basic attitudes hostile 
to the handicapped are widespread in society (on this, cf. U. Bach, “Do we 
force the handicapped into a ghetto by our mental attitudes?” “Theological 
reflections on the need for a revision of our ideologies” in Die Rehabilitation , 
1975, I, p. 18ff). I am here concerned to point out the danger of the perversion 
of the Christian creed by such principles. As I see it, we Christians are to 
blame not because we invented these principles but because we have failed to 
present more clearly a biblical, realistic and liberating counterweight to this 
unsocial mentality, based on our Christian faith. 


but they represent isolated acts in some sort of tension with the 
nature of God. A certain element of caprice still clings to them. 
Unless I have completely misunderstood the New Testament, one 
of its most revolutionary notes is the insistence that God’s low- 
liness, far from being exhausted in a series of incidental and 
isolated acts, is on the contrary a description of his very nature. 
God is most characteristically himself in the suffering of death. 
In the language of the king image, manger and cross are his real 
“government business”. “The highness of God consists in his thus 
descending”. 6 

The angel discloses to the shepherds God’s own royal insignia: 
“This is your sign: you will find a baby wrapped in his swaddling 
clothes, in a manger” (Lk. 2 : 12). Concepts such as “almighty”, 
“miracle”, “triumph” cannot in fact capture the nature of God. 
For this we need such concepts as “powerlessness” (child), “help- 
lessness” (swaddling clothes), and “poverty” (manger). When we 
speak of the /owliness of God we are not referring to isolated acts 
but to the very nature of God. God is not a god at the top, with 
the manger, cross, and so on, as mere minor exceptions to the 
rule; God is a god in the “below”. Manger and cross are typically 
divine. Typical only of Yahweh, of course. For those who cannot 
shake off Baal, this is all foolish and scandalous (cf. 1 Cor. 1 : 23). 
But the irregular thing, the abnormal thing would have been for 
Yahweh, for the God in the ‘below’, for the Father of Jesus Christ, 
to have pronounced the impressive Pharisees justified rather than 
the taxcollector (cf. Lk. 18 : 9ff.). What would have really been 
scandalous for this God would have been to have been found in the 
royal palace rather than in the stable (cf. Mt. 2 : If.), and so on. 

Faith in Yahweh and Diaconia 

What are we affirming when, in reciting the Apostles’ Creed, we 
genuinely commit ourselves to this god of lowliness? 

When we confess our faith in God the Creator, we do not gloss 
over things which, to our way of thinking, could have turned out 
better. “Thou hast made all by thy wisdom” (Ps. 104 : 24) (by his 
wisdom and not necessarily to our liking) — this does not exclude 
but rather includes, for example, the fact that the lions are only 
fed when they kill other living creatures and that this is “seeking 
their food from God” (v. 21). As creator, God is also the author 

6 Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline , SCM Press Ltd. 1949, p. 40. Cf. P. Phi- 
lippi, op. cit. p. 221: “The neglected genus tapeinoticum must be introduced 
into dogmatics as genus diaconicum.” 


of events which we can only describe as disastrous (“If disaster 
falls on a city, has not the Lord been at work?” Amos 3:6). Put 
in its simplest form: without God’s good creative word “no single 
thing was created” (Jn. 1:3). 

If we speak of God in these terms, we shall not have to wait for the 
third article of the Creed to remember the chronically handicapped 
person when, as already noted, his only role will be that of an 
object, but we can see him as much a beloved creature of God as 
any accomplished athlete. 7 This will introduce an anthropological 
note which is urgently needed, especially in our achievement- 
oriented society, namely, the affirmation that every human being is 
precious, unconditionally and irrespective of any achievement. 
This Christian way of speaking of people could mean a tremendous 
liberation for us all, not only for the handicapped but wherever 
lives are oppressed by conditional and causal principles of any 
kind (e.g. where a human being is considered precious if he 
produces the relevant achievements or because he is morally 
unassailable or physically complete, etc.). We should then realize 
that our life is primarily a gift and only secondarily a task. 

The second article of the Creed also takes on a different com- 
plexion when it is a confession of the God of lowliness. The Son 
of God did not simply dispatch certain gifts down here, but 
“became flesh” (Jn. 1 : 14). Unlike Santa Claus, he did not empty 
out a huge sack of presents; he himself became a helpless person. 
“He saved others but he cannot save himself” (Mk. 15:31). This 
text shuts and bolts the door against all Baalism. 

Friedrich Nietzsche noted with dismay “the gruesome superlative 
that struck a classical taste” (and we might add here, any human 
taste in any age!) “in the paradoxical formula ‘god on the cross’. 
Never yet and nowhere has there been an equal boldness in inver- 
sion, anything as horrible, questioning and questionable as this 
formula; it promised a re-valuation of all the values of antiquity”. 8 

7 The last thing I wish to do in these lines is to blur the distinction between 
the present world and that which is promised in the Gospel. The origin of 
“death”, “evil”, etc. cannot be discussed adequately in the context of this 
essay, if at all. On the basis of the Bible it is impossible to challenge the view 
that our world, that every human life, also has this dimension of hostility to 
God. What I would certainly wish to challenge here is the supposition that a 
person’s outward condition can be made the basis for deductions as to his or 
her being loved more or loved less by God, as to his or her being closer to 
sin and death. Every person is a sinner; every person is moving towards death; 
every person is beloved of God. All these statements apply equally to every 
person whether that person is handicapped or an Olympic champion. 

8 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil , trans. W. Kaufmann, Vintage 
Books, New York, 1966, p. 60, § 46. 


God is not a triumphant god ‘on high’; the purpose of Jesus is not 
to lift up all on high but fellowship with us human beings, whether 
this solidarity is realized below, in the middle or above. “This 
fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:2). “I must 
come and stay with you today” (Lk. 19 : 5). “Today you shall be 
with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23 : 43). The question put to us is not 
whether we are, in the power of Jesus, progressing nicely towards 
the top. It is the very different question of whether, in the strength 
of his fellowship with us all, we draw the logical conclusion, follow 
him as his disciples, and ourselves seek fellowship with our brothers 
and sisters. It is the crucified and risen Lord who puts this question 
to us. “Because even after Easter, his lordship. . . remains that of 
the Crucified, it always goes contrary to our desires and longings. 
The voice of the risen Lord has never had any other theme than 
this call to follow him . . . The Easter message would be more 
credible to the world if the world could see Christians not just 
gazing up into heaven but, rather, losing their lives here on earth 
for the sake of their Lord and of his brothers and sisters”. 9 

The Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, therefore, is “this 
doctrine of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18) and, as such, “the message of 
reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). Jesus proclaims himself uncon- 
ditionally as the brother of us all. As our brother he purposes to 
unite us all as one large extended family. 

This helps us to interpret the third article of the Creed as a con- 
fession of this great extended family into which we are born by 
baptism, in which we are nourished by preaching and the Lord’s 
Supper, for which God equips us all, and for whose life we are all 
of us responsible. It would be quite out of place to ask which of us 
is greater, which of us is smaller, which of us has something and 
which of us has nothing to contribute to the community. Ernst 
Kasemann has shown that, for Paul at least, “it is not only the 
outstanding services in the community which count as charismatic”; 
on the contrary “no one goes away empty and no one can be done 
without”. 10 Because this is really the way things are, the guiding 
principle in the life of the Christian community is: “Whatever gift 
each of you may have received, use it in service to one another ” 
(1 Pet. 4 : 10). Our pattern, therefore, is not action for others 
(someone always the giver and another always the receiver) but 

9 E. Kasemann, in the essay referred to in n. 1 , op. cit. p. 413f). 

10 E. Kasemann, Essays on New Testament Themes , Studies in Biblical 
Theology No. 41, SCM Press Ltd 1964, p. 69 and p. 76 (trans. slightly altered). 


rather action with others (each one of us simultaneously giver and 
receiver). All of us make a positive contribution to the community. 11 

The community can therefore be likened to a body in which the 
individual limbs and organs have different functions (and are 
treated with varying degrees of respect) but none is superfluous. 
Indeed these differences are vital since the body could not live if it 
consisted exclusively of eyes or ears (1 Cor. 12 : 17). We continually 
have difficulty in adapting ourselves to the fellowship as a whole, 
because we want to be on top, robust, giving and helpful. Some- 
times it seems that we Christians have had it drummed into us so 
often that we must live for others that the claim “I have no need of 
you” has actually become the characteristic professional sin of 
church workers. The fact is not only that “God has given each of 
us gifts” but also that we are all in danger. 12 “It is not so much the 
social or moral oddity who is in danger of missing the purpose and 
meaning of his life — God, reconciliation, fellowship with his 
brothers and sisters — but rather the person whose religious and 
moral convictions, whose standing in his group, whose superiority 
to others, are so secure that he thinks himself completely out of 
danger and in no need of conversion whatever.” As the Church of 
Jesus Christ, we must take care, therefore, not to divide ourselves 
into healers and patients. The Church must be described more 
accurately as a “patients’ cooperative” where all the members are 
sick — after all, we are not yet in heaven! 13 

Everyone of us needs help: everyone of us can help. None of us is 
merely a burden for the rest, and none of us is simply a burden- 
bearer. “Help one another by bearing whatever burdens there are 
among you, for in this way you will live by Christ’s rules of the 
game” (as Gal. 6 : 2 might be paraphrased). 

11 According to P. Philippi, we have thus to understand “diaconia as applied 
Christology” {op. cit. p. 123). For further details on “for” and “with”, see 
U. Bach, “Diakonie als Lebensweise der Kirche”, in Die Innere Mission 1974 
(1/2), p. 35ff. 

12 This is the title of an article by H. Chr. v. Hase on assistance to young 
people in moral danger, in Diakonie 72> Jahrbuch des diakonischen Werkes 
der EKiD, p. 46ff; the quotation is from p. 47. 

13 Luthers Werke in Auswahl (Clemen edition), V. 5, ed. E. Vogelsang, 
2nd ed. 1955, p. 243, lines 10-12. 



Obviously no even remotely complete exposition of the Apostles’ 
Creed could be provided in the two short sections above. My 
object was to show: 

• that there are two totally different ways of taking the old 
phrases of the Apostles’ Creed; 

• that one of these ways matches our wishful thinking about God; 

• that the other way matches the biblical message about God; 

• that whereas the former way of interpreting the Creed is clearly 
antipathetic to the handicapped, the latter way is clearly 
friendly towards them. 

This means we cannot answer the question as to whether we treat 
handicapped people in the Church as our brothers and sisters 
simply by pointing out ways in which non-handicapped Christians 
actively care for the handicapped. On the contrary, the real test is 
the way in which we all (both handicapped and non-handicapped) 
confess and practise the Christian faith in respect of ourselves and 
our handicapped and non-handicapped fellow human beings; in 
other words, how far we are really liberated from Baal, how far our 
life is genuinely a “discipleship of the Crucified”. 

For, if by our confession of faith we encourage each other to 
accept our fractured world hopefully as the cherished creation of 
God, if we encourage one another to take the doctrine of justifi- 
cation in Jesus really seriously in our daily life, and if we encourage 
one another to live humbly but also without fatalism as those who 
have been made members of the “patients’ cooperative”, the 
Church, then the handicapped person has a real and significant 
opportunity for integration and wholeness. He notices that people 
here are themselves tackling the same task facing him each day. 
For this is precisely my problem: have I the courage to accept 
myself, my body, my life, along with all the deficiencies and all the 
possibilities still open to me? This is my problem: even though I 
am often “down” in many respects, am I able to believe, know, 
and live in the confidence, that I am free to be as I am? This is my 
problem: can I find it in me, despite all my limitations, to hope, 
desperately sometimes, that even I may not simply be a burden in 
the society of others, but also able to make some positive con- 

A Church “Below” 

Since the Church is already either diaconal or non-diaconal in its 
confession of faith and not only when it comes to act, the next 


question is what kind of life a church must lead if it confesses God 
as the God who is lowly, the God who is “below”, the God and 
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Obviously it must be a church 
“below”, a “lowly” church. What does this mean in practice? 
Here we still have a great deal to learn. My impression is that we 
are all of us so backward in this respect that no one is yet in a 
position to produce a detailed blueprint of what a lowly church, 
a church below, would look like. 

In this section, therefore, I want to try to offer a rough sketch of 
the form I believe the Church which confesses Jesus should take, 
on the basis of a variety of individual reports and quotations. 
I have deliberately not restricted my choice here to explicitly 
Christian statements. Even outside the organized Church there are 
patterns of thought and practical experiments from which we can 
learn. “Bring them all to the test and then keep what is good in 
them” (1 Thess. 5 : 21). 

One further preliminary remark: in bringing together a series of 
disparate facts, my intention is not that each of them taken by 
itself should be provocative or even simply conspicuous but rather 
to stress the coherence and combination of these separate facts. 
There is an analogy here to what I said earlier about the procla- 
mation of the lowliness of God. Just as it would be nonsense to 
proclaim a lofty God and then to note in surprise his condescension 
in certain isolated acts, so too here it would be nonsense to sing 
about a Church triumphant which is God’s foothold here on earth 
and then to add, as an afterthought, that the Church also tries to 
help the poorest of God’s children. Just as it is right to proclaim 
the God below whose divinity consists in being the crucified God, 
so too it is right to be the Church in such a way that our ecclesiality 
consists in our being the Church below. 14 


Are we not frequently much too unrealistic in talking of people? 
We assume that the normal human being is robust, healthy and 

14 Otherwise our diaconal work would only be an “apocryphal addendum, 
a good and useful thing to do but not something vital for church and theology” 
(G. Harbsmeier in Junge Kirche, 1975, p. 71). Th. Schober writes in his 
Leitlinien fur morgen: “Diaconia is a task of the whole Church which embodies 
(and I would add: “is not merely deduced from”) the very nature of the Church” 
( Diakonie , 74, p. 198). According to Moltmann ( The Crucified God, SCM 
Press Ltd. 1973, p. 72f): the task remains “of developing the theology of the 
cross in the direction of an understanding of the world and of history. The 
theology of the cross had to be worked out not merely for the reform of the 
Church but as social criticism, in association with practical actions to set free 
both the wretched and their rulers.” 


independent. But this is to adopt a view which banishes the weak, 
the sick, and the helpless to the margin as abnormal or subnormal. 
Here we have to be willing to learn from the Israel of the Old 
Testament. The Israelites frequently had aliens in their midst and 
these aliens enjoyed a definite legal status as Israel’s guests. Simply 
to appeal: “Be kind to aliens!” was not considered to be adequate. 
The Israelite’s attitude to these aliens was the corollary of the 
Israelites’ attitude to themselves: “We are aliens before thee and 
settlers as were all our fathers” (1 Chr. 29 : 15). The fact that the 
fathers had been aliens was not consigned to a dead past but the 
fathers’ experience of the position of aliens was consciously 
remembered continuously down into the present time. So too, 
according to H. W. Wolff, the realization that “everyone is in 
origin himself a slave who has been liberated by God’s act” 
brought about a veritable revolution in the relationship between 
master and slave. 15 

My suggestion is this: we, too, should cherish a lively sense of our 
own utter helplessness and dependence in our infancy. If we list 
the relevant characteristics (inability to walk, to reason, to speak, 
to earn a living, to feed himself, to dress himself, etc.) without 
mentioning the fact that we are talking about an infant, the 
impression will be that we are speaking of a severely handicapped 
person. If we keep in mind the humbling helplessness of our early 
infancy, we have to acknowledge that deficiency is an essential 
element in any description of human beings. To have deficiencies 
is quite normal. The fact that our helplessness generally decreases 
as we grow older (until it increases again as we approach old age 
and death, of course) and the fact that adults do not find it easy 
to be dependent on other people’s help to any large extent, does not 
alter the fact of man’s fundamental frailty. No one taking these 
things to heart will find it possible “to confer charity from some 
superior height” 16 but will realize that the partners here meet on 
essentially the same level. For anyone who talks of mankind, for 
anyone who makes the effort to view both the handicapped and 
the non-handicapped person primarily as human beings, the only 
possible basis is our common unity and the impossibility of any 
of us managing without the others. 

How hard we find it to keep this truth steadily in view may be 
illustrated by two statements in a book published in 1975 with the 
striking title Emancipation and Helplessness . 17 In this H. Schwarz- 

15 H. W. Wolf, Anthropology of the Old Testament , trans. Margaret Kohl, 
SCM Press Ltd. 1973, p. 204. 

16 See E. Schweitzer in Gottinger Predigtmeditationen 1974/75, p. 22. 

17 Diakonie 1975. 


walder writes: “The ultimate aim is the autonomous personality 
which has discovered its own identity ”. 18 A. Hollweg, on the other 
hand, affirms: “Emancipation cannot make man’s autarchy and 
autonomy its goal . . . Even helping people to help themselves 
cannot mean that we shall someday escape our own helplessness 
as a basic anthropological fact ”. 19 But where are the attempts to 
accept them both frankly together? 

In Wetter in the Ruhr, a club for handicapped and non-handi- 
capped people, known as the Joint Integration Club has existed 
for some years. This club produced a set of guidelines from which 
I quote some sentences, since the anthropological assumptions 
seem to me important and helpful . 20 

Existing forms of isolation: ... for the non-handicapped: 
Danger of repressing the fact that all of us are exposed to the 
possibility of becoming handicapped, and the consequent fear 
of direct, mutually responsible contacts with handicapped 
persons . . . 

Joint integration: 

a ) helps us all consciously to come to terms with the existence 
of limitations (e.g. handicaps, sickness, death) as normal 

b ) we realize that the repression of these limitations is due to 
cowardice, fear, or stupidity; we also realize that such 
repression logically leads to the dismissal of the handicapped 
as a marginal group . . . 

c) in our joint activities as handicapped and non-handicapped 
people, we hope we shall be enabled to cope more satis- 
factorily with potential and actual limitations in our lives. 

As the Church below, the aim is not to change attitudes towards 
the handicapped but our attitudes towards ourselves. We realize 
that if we adopt the illegitimate position of anthropological superi- 
ority (we are strong and independent, and this is normal for human 
beings) the most we can then do is to tolerate the weak in our midst 
(we try to raise them as far as possible to our level by rehabilitation 
programmes 21 or, if that fails, we either leave them disdainfully 

18 Loc. cit., p. 332. 

19 Loc. cit., p. 35 1 f. 

20 “Oberlegungen zu einer Clubgriindung in Wetter”, roneod paper of three 
pages, no date and place of publication (1974, Wetter, Ruhr). 


at the edge or treat them as infants needing to be mothered). Only 
if we are aware of our own weaknesses can we treat them as human 
beings who are — every single one of them — as much unique and 
irreplaceable creatures cherished by God as we are ourselves. 


If we confess the God of lowliness, our piety will have to undergo 
a radical revolution. “God lets himself be pushed out of the world 
on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is 
precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps 
us. . . Only the suffering God can help”. It follows from this that 
“it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to 
believe” as “we share in God’s sufferings through a life of this 
kind ”. 22 

This we could already have learned from Martin Luther. Opposing 
the medieval effort to ascend to God by a variety of paths, Luther 
insists repeatedly that we must begin where God begins, namely, 
with the man Jesus; we must have done with speculations and 
keep our eyes fixed simply on the man Christ who comes forward 
as the mediator and tells us we must cleave to him . 23 What this 
means he expresses quite concretely: “Christ needs no sacrifices, 
temple, oxen or cows, but points us instead to the poor; all this 
is to be given to them.” 24 But this is really the question: Are we 
the Church below? Do we practise discipleship where we really 

21 We have to consider very carefully whether we really mean by “rehabilita- 
tion” the effort to ensure that each handicapped person is provided with the 
proper human living conditions appropriate to his possibilities, or whether 
we do not sometimes (unconsciously perhaps) have in mind an inhumane 
selection process in which the slightly disabled are largely assimilated with the 
non-handicapped and the severely handicapped are finally pushed to one side 
(cf. U. Bach, “Zur Ziel-vorstellung der Rehabilitation”, in Die Rehabilitation , 
1977, No. 3, p. 172f). 

22 D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, 
SCM Press Ltd., London, p. 196f. The real question would seem to be not just 
whether a person learns to believe but also where he does so. For the same 
word can have different contents. Where do we Christians learn the meaning 
of discipleship, of faith, love and hope? At the university, from books, at 
conferences (perhaps ecumenical conferences)? Or where two or three share 
God’s sufferings in the world? 

23 The exact Latin on which this last sentence is based is found in the Weimar 
edition of Luther’s Works: WA 40 I, p. 76 (lines 9f) and p. 79 (lines Iff). 
On the whole context see Anders Mygren, Agape and Eros, Westminster 
Press 1953, pp. 716ff. 

24 D. Martin Luthers Evangelien Auslegung, ed. E. Miilhaupt, vol. 2, 2nd ed. 
1974, p. 702. 


need one another’s help? This is the question we shall be asked at 
the Last Judgement. Those who have helped the needy here on 
earth will share in the coming Kingdom of God. 25 This cannot 
possibly be an optional qualification for entry into the Kingdom, 
therefore. In this parable of the Last Judgement (Mt. 25), Jesus 
is really insisting on the continuity of his convenant. 26 Those who 
belong to him here on earth (and only those who accept the 
“below” can belong to the lowly God) will belong to him here- 
after. 27 Salvation in Jesus just does not exist as a private possession; 
it is only had in the fellowship of his brothers and sisters. “The 
only valid proof that anyone is a Christian consists in the brothers 
that person has helped. Only as my salvation was their salvation, 
too, is it clear that I really received salvation”. 28 In other words, 
there is no salvation which is “mine” or “his”; the only salvation 
is “our” salvation. So too, life is only meaningul if it is life for “us” 
and not “for me” or “for him”. 29 

I often think how much congregations could learn to improve 
their piety from people who work in the service of the handicapped. 
In U. Kobbe’s Diary of a Teacher of Disabled Persons , for example, 

25 Cf. Mt. 25 : 3 Iff, especially v. 40. 

26 ... as if Jesus could equally well have said that the person who plays the 
piano skilfully here on earth will inherit a share in God’s glory; piety would 
then consist in practising Mozart sonatas. In other words the content of what 
we do is quite immaterial; the only thing that counts is to fulfil the conditions 
for entry into heaven. 

27 Not even the beyond will be simply the complete “above”. Kasemann 
refers to Lk. 12 : 37: Jesus will put on his servant garment, “His service is his 
glory and the only authentication of his sovereignty” (in the essay cited in 
n. 1, op. cit.y p. 430). 

28 E. Kasemann, Exegetische Versuche und Besinnungen, vol. 1. 2nd ed. 
1962, pag. 292. 

29 H. Hetzer at the end of his lecture “Place and Task of the Weak in our 
Society”, given at the Evangelical Academy of Arnoldshain in March 1961 
(the quotation occurs on p. 19 of the manuscript in my possession). At this 
point it is certainly right to raise the serious question as to whether it is proper 
and meaningful to speak occasionally of the special task of the handicapped. 
(My own question, for example, is whether this special task may not consist in 
“recalling us all . . . to the basic realities ... in the here and now of our 
imperfect world” — see p. 27 of my essay referred to in No. 5 above.) In itself 
this is not a completely mistaken question and yet — each person should 
contribute himself, and that means more than merely the representative of a 

When I think of the handicapped from whom I gain a great deal, what they 
give me may be partly determined by their handicap; but it derives its meaning 
not from their disablement but from their humanity. For my part, I try to 
accept and cope with the role of pastor and the role of a person in a wheelchair. 
As the person I am I want to pass on the message of Jesus and not the message 
of a wheelchair or of a wheelchair driver. 


we read: . at home he was always known as ‘the coffin nail’. 

The worst of it was that I was myself quite seriously afraid that he 
would either bring me to an early grave or else finish my pro- 
fessional career. ‘Not at all’, Paula told me, ‘he’s making you 
into a teacher of disabled persons!’ Something which no amount 
of training, study, certificates, or even the most complete expert 
knowledge, can do! It is you yourself who must change. The sick 
child can’t!” Or again: “Klaus Michael will make me a teacher of 
the disabled and I will make a man of him! If we succeed, we 
are bound together for ever. For we have both been set this 
difficult task by the same supreme disposer, i.e. by our heavenly 
Father.” 30 

What is said here so simply seems to me to have the same pattern 
as does the New Testament when speaking of the Christian com- 
munity. In this community there is no differentiation between 
members who are already complete and others who need to be 
supported and changed. The life of the Christian community only 
develops as each member is ready to both give and receive and 
confidently expects the others to do the same. In such a community 
the individual member can only give because he or she has already 
received. “Active diaconia thus presupposes the experience of 
receiving diaconia ”. 31 If anyone wishes to continue speaking of 
“patients” and “therapists”, then each must be assigned both roles, 
and Lazarus, too, performs the role of therapist . 32 For us piety can 
only be the reciprocal activity in the community which we described 
earlier as a “patients’ cooperative”. 

Participating in Practical Diaconia 

This sub-title is framed so as to underline again the essential co- 
operation (rather than separation) between the two groups gener- 
ally described as “staff” and “patients” (terms which cannot 
altogether be avoided even in this essay). It is true that one group 
earns its living by being engaged here, while the other has to be 
financed from public funds or from its own resources or those of 

30 U. Kobbe, Die Briicke ohne Geldnder , Tagebuch einer Heilpadagogin , 
Herder 1974, p. 55f and p. 58. 

31 This is the thesis adopted by the “Ordnung der Evangelischen Diakonen- 
anstalt Martineum” (Witten/Ruhr, 1975, p. 20) to express its opposition to 
all diaconal activism. 

32 This phrase originated with J. Kleemann and is found in O. Seeber, 
Y. Spiegel (ed.), Behindert, siichtig , obdachlos (disabled, sick, homeless), 1973, 

p. 28. 


relatives. But this fact must not be allowed to obscure the far more 
important one that anthropologically, christologically and ecclesio- 
logically, they are equal partners. 

Is there not a constant temptation for those of us who belong to 
the staff to slip unconsciously into a superior attitude? On a 
number of occasions in the New Testament, the disciples are 
referred to as “little ones”. 33 Are we content to be defined by “the 
grace which in the Church is the beginning and end of everything”? 
Do we sincerely practise “the joyful message of the empty hands”? 34 
Or do we yield to an anxious desire to prove to ourselves, to others, 
and perhaps even to God. that our hands are not quite as empty 
as other people’s? Once again, therefore, the first question is who 
we are, not what our role is in relation to others, or what our 
work is. 

If it is really true that we Christians are the “little ones”, we 
should be disquieted by the constant difficulty of finding people to 
fill the many vacant posts in service organizations working with 
the disabled. In this connection A. Hamer asks whether it is 
enough to exhort Christians to practise their discipleship “each 
in his particular profession”. “Are not certain callings and pro- 
fessions of special interest for Christians?” “If any one wants to be 
first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all” 
(Mk. 9 : 35). 35 But whether or not the preference for service in 
nursing professions should be a concrete sign of the lowliness of 
the Church, quite clearly the social position from which the 
company of disciples views the world must be that of the outcast, 
the oppressed, those who at any given time are down and out, and 
this quite irrespective of the social position and social composition 
of the company itself. 36 

33 This is emphasized by E. Schweitzer in his book Jesus , SCM Press Ltd. 

34 This phrase is used by G. Casalis in Gottinger-Predigtmeditationen, 1969/70, 
p. 143. 

35 A. Hamer, Theologie im Ersatzdienst (manuscript. 1974), p. 38f. Hamer 
wrote this as a theological student after he had completed his national service 
in a home for handicapped men. The work has since been expanded into a 
dissertation for the master’s degree and published under the title “Rehabilita- 
tion von unten”, Kaiser, Munich, 1978. 

According to P. Philippi, the part of the text from which Mk. 9 : 35 is taken 
represents the “Basic Rule of the behaviour of the Christian community” 
(op. cit. p. 102 and passim). See p. 106: “In the content of the ‘basic rule’ 
according to which that person will be considered the first who is prepared 
to be the last, to be a diaconos is an expression of the Christ-structure of the 

36 H Gollwitzer, Die kapitalistische Revolution, Munich 1974, p. 103. 


Looking at things from this angle will also mean paying far more 
attention to certain groups than we have done so far. I would like 
to single out just two groups of the multitude of handicapped 

Firstly, physically handicapped adults in nursing homes. Since 
they are unable to pursue any profession, they are of no interest 
to a social system oriented to achievement. Are they also of no 
interest to the Church? There are nursing homes where forty or 
fifty people are accommodated in groups of from two to seven to 
a room. And it has been like this for more than twenty years! 
Some rooms are bedroom, washroom, dining room and toilet 
room combined. Do our congregations realize just how scandalous 
these conditions are? Do they really understand what a tremendous 
achievement it is (measured not in economic terms but in terms of 
personal effort) when the inhabitant of such a nursing home main- 
tains contact with people outside? 37 Or when such a person attends 
meetings to discuss with others the problems of the handicapped? 
Or when he actively supports a comrade suffering from some 
obvious injustice? Do our congregations really appreciate the often 
desperate efforts of many staff members and directors of these 
institutions, despite difficulties of finance and personnel, to reduce 
the incidence of distress, epitomized by the statement of one 
victim: “I’m not at home here; I don’t really live here, I just 
vegetate”. 38 

In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a “Declar- 
ation of the Rights of Disabled Persons”. Article 9 of this declar- 
ation states that when a handicapped person has to be sent to a 
special institution, the surroundings and conditions there shall 
correspond as closely as possible to those enjoyed by a non-handi- 
capped person of equivalent age. 39 If the State is trying hard to 
encourage more initiative in this direction, should it not be a mark 
of the lowly Church to get involved more deeply here? 40 

37 A young man is being interviewed by a therapist. He is slightly above 
average intellectually and suffers from a severe spastic condition. He has to 
use an alphabetical table to communicate. He lifts his hand each time jerkily 
behind his head and forces it to indicate the letters. It takes him about five 
minutes before the therapist can make out the sentence: “I have difficulties in 

38 Answer to an oral enquiry (conducted by H. Bremshey, Volmarstein) as to 
whether the occupants of a nursing home had the feeling “I live here” or 
whether they could say: “I dwell here, I am at home here.” 

39 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3447 (xxx) adopted De- 
cember 9, 1975. 

40 Obviously no spectacular results can be expected here. Anyone who has 
had to be fed and nursed for forty years will in all probability continue to need 
this assistance for the rest of his or her life. In an age like our own which sets 


The same applies to the second group I wish to mention: children 
of school age who are suffering from an incurable and progressive 
disease which makes it improbable (depending on the character 
and virulence of the disease) that they will live to the age of 
twenty, or even survive to school-leaving age. 41 

A nine-year old pupil is asked to draw himself. His drawing shows 
arms and legs but no hands or feet. He explains that he hasn’t 
drawn the hands because they don’t do what he tells them and must 
be punished. A twelve-year old laments that for some time now he 
is no longer able even to switch his radio on. “What next?” The 
games played by another twelve-year old always end with the 
death of all the characters. If anyone tries to encourage him in a 
friendly way, he immediately invents some catastrophe to account 
for it: a fire, a raid, a bomb attack. 42 The education of these chil- 
dren “cannot be regarded as preparation for real life after school- 
days are over. The school life cannot be subordinated to the 
future as if it were only a preparatory phase of life”. The “here 
and now” at any given point takes on an intrinsic worth, as a time 
to be used to the full. 43 

All this confronts the Church with a question. Are we hearing it? 
In an age when everything focusses on the future, how can we, 
in a meaningful way, fashion a present time which no longer has 
any visible future? Ought not the Church to reflect again on the 
liberating and urgent way in which Jesus commends us to pay 
attention to the present day: “So do not be anxious about 
tomorrow” (Mt. 6 : 34) and to pray: “Give us today our daily bread” 
(Mt. 6 : 11)? Obviously this either applies to us all or to none of 

such store by success, the Church “here below” must recognize that “our duty 
as a diaconal community is to champion the cause of those who are the most 
severely handicapped of all” (R. Lotze in his report to the general meeting of 
the Association of Evangelical Institutes for the Rehabilitation of the handi- 
capped on 25th October 1976, manuscript p. 4). More precisely, this means: 
having the courage to go on where others are in danger of giving up; discovering 
meaning in even the smallest steps, when others consider a complete rehabilita- 
tion is possible or (when there is obviously no improvement) want to abandon 
the attempt; replacing the unrealistic goal (“the distress must be abolished”) 
by a dynamic which proposes “to make the distressing situation more livable”. 

41 In this section I draw on two studies (existing only in manuscript form) 
produced in the special college for the physically handicapped in the ortho- 
paedic institutions of Volmarstein: E. Stolz, Sozialisation in den Tod — sozial- 
padagogische Probleme bei Kindern mit progressiver Muskeldystrophie in 
Schule und Heim , 1974; and W. Berndt, E. and E Stolz, Zur Erziehung des 
schwerstbehinderten und des mehrfachbehinderten Kindes, 1977. 

42 Stolz, op. cit. pp. 93, 96, 97. 

43 Berndt/Stolz, op. cit. p. 17. 


us. If we project the meaning of our own lives into the future, 
how can we expect the severely handicapped among us to seek the 
meaning of their lives in the present? The question here again is 
who are we? And how do we order our common life together? 44 

Again, how is the educator to help the child to accept his mortality, 
his dying? Any help given must in any case be related to the child’s 
own attitude to death and dying. It cannot be a matter of abolishing 
existing fears but rather of offsetting them by a counterbalancing 
confidence which must find expression in an ability to endure the 
feared event when it actually comes. 45 The authors immediately 
go on to say here: “If anyone asks us where such confidence is to be 
obtained, the vocabulary of the educator no longer provides any 

Are we in the Church also hearing this question? It is impossible, 
of course, to give a general answer to how an educator is to prepare 
for such conversations or how the child is to be supported in such 
cases. What is quite clear, however, is that a church dominated by 
Baal, or even merely flirting with Baal, has no resources which 
would be of the slightest help to it in dealing with this problem. 
But staff, relatives, and the children themselves will perhaps be 
ready and willing to let another person share their own trouble, 
to some extent at least, if they find in that person a style of life 
which E. Kasemann pointed to in words we have already quoted: 
“I prefer to commit myself to the God to whom Jesus called out 
on the cross, and to no other.” 

The lowly Church, therefore, is not just a group of those whom 
Christ has delivered from the convulsions and pressures of this 
world, nor a group which aimlessly follows its Lord through the 
world down here. Rather it is a group which can be a help to other 
human beings, and which without the presence of him who pro- 
mises us all, “I am with you always to the end of time” (Mt. 28 : 20), 
would outwardly perish and inwardly pine away. 

Courage or Fatalism? 

In what has been said so far the emphasis has been largely on the 
“below”. This has inevitably made my presentation rather one- 

44 Even in the time dimension there is therefore also a “being below”, a being 
“little”, for the disciples of Jesus. 

45 Berndt/Stolz, op. cit. p. 31. 


sided, though this I believe was necessary for clarity’s sake. But to 
avoid any misunderstanding of my whole argument, I must now 
add the following points: 

1. I am not urging fatalism but a sober acceptance of realities. 
I am not saying that the greater the deficiency the better. I be- 
lieve that the deficiencies must be accepted actively rather than 
passively. The possibility of reducing the deficits and of dealing 
with them in a creative way is a separate and very important 
question. But first of all, we must come to terms courageously 
with the deficiencies. 46 There can be no question of romanticis- 
ing handicaps or the life of the handicapped human being. We 
must certainly do our utmost to prevent handicaps, to mitigate 
them or to make them bearable. But so long as there are human 
beings whose handicaps cannot be prevented or removed, our 
confession of faith in God the Creator (who is none other than 
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ) must include the burden 
of a severe handicap just as much as it includes the beauty of 
the starry heavens above. 

2. Neither is there any question of romanticising the crucifixion, 
of romanticising Good Friday (and upstaging Easter Day). But 
before the last day, “new life” (Rom. 6 : 4) springing from 
Easter is not in fact a life without deficiencies but rather the 
life of a “new creature” (II Cor. 5 : 17) for whom the grace of 
Christ is sufficient (in present weakness!) (II Cor. 12:9). The 
temporal purpose of the risen Lord is accomplished in us, 
therefore, if by his grace we are enabled to share life with one 

46 This also applies to the deficiencies in our attitudes. When non-handicapped 
people suddenly encounter or encounter for the first time handicapped people 
and discover a certain feeling of resistance in themselves, they often react 
with a bad conscience and outsiders are often shocked. G. W. Jansen ( Die 
Einstellung der Gesellschaft zu Korperbehinderten, 1972, p. 121) reports that 
an enquiry among women teachers in a special school revealed that “even 
these teachers admitted” to having had difficulties, at least to start with. I am 
often astonished how relieved non-handicapped people are when you tell them 
that such reactions are perfectly normal. In a society in which we are constantly 
(sometimes with, sometimes without using Christian terms) acknowledging 
“Baal” in thought, word and deed, these reactions are a perfectly logical 
consequence (or symptom) of this confession of faith in “Baal”. What 
is needed is a shared learning process in which we all of us together train 
our responses. For handicapped persons, the object must be to learn to 
accept themselves with their handicaps, and non-handicapped persons with 
their greater capacities. For non-handicapped people, the object must be to 
accept their own health and the threat to it, as well as the handicapped fellow 
human beings with their limitations. We never reach these goals entirely, 
without some vestige remaining of envy, complaint, contempt, compassion 
etc. Deficiencies still remain even here. What is important is that we should 
be moving towards these goals. 


another, both as the successful (and we need successes even 
though our life is not based on them) and as the seriously 
handicapped (handicaps are a burden but they cannot destroy 
the basis of our life). To live in the strength of Easter means 
basing our life not on what we can make of it but on the call of 
Jesus which comes to us all: “Follow thou me!”. 

3. Nor am I proposing an ecclesiology which romanticises the 
“below”. But as long as we Christians (the representatives of 
the Church) appear to belong among the top people, we have 
obviously failed to do justice to the call to discipleship. And it 
is open to question whether we shall ever be able to do justice 
to it, since this call to discipleship, Jesus’ call to repentance, 47 
and his call to us to be the diaconal Church, must be heard 
afresh and obeyed afresh every day by each one of us. 48 

According to Martin Luther, “making progress” as Christians 
is equivalent to “constantly starting again from the beginning”. 
But only those who try to be “little” disciples of Jesus (see above) 
will find encouragement in this truth. Since God begins afresh 
with us every day, we too are free — not forced — to begin 
afresh every day. 

Integrated Integration 

The phrase “integrated integration” is a slogan which has implicitly 
controlled much of what I have said in this essay. Human society 
today is so set on separation (achievement principle, competitive 
thinking) that the integration of its weaker members really goes 

47 “Repentance” here does not mean a remorseful attitude but rather a joyful 
response to the invitation of Jesus (cf. for example, Lk. 15 : 32; 19 : 6). 

48 Cf. Martin Luther’s first thesis of 1517: “Our Lord and Master Jesus 
Christ, in saying ‘Repent ye, etc.’ meant the whole life of the faithful to be an 
act of repentance.” ( Documents of the Christian Church , ed. Bettenson, OUP, 
1959, p. 260.) Those of us who work as staff in diaconal service seem to be 
especially prone either to yield to complacency or else to succumb to our own 
over-taxing of ourselves. If we compare ourselves with those Christians who 
do little or nothing in the field of active diaconia, we tend to become complacent 
and say: “At least we are doing something”, and our diaconia is in danger of 
becoming static, unrepentant, and self-righteous. If we compare our activity 
with Jesus’ summons to discipleship and with the distress around us and in the 
whole world, we are in danger of having a chronic bad conscience: “I do far 
too little.” Then we want to take upon and into ourselves all the distress of the 
world. It is a liberating experience to say to oneself soberly day by day: “. . . let 
him take up his cross. . .” (Mt. 16 : 24). I am not to avoid that cross, but 
neither am I to try to carry all the crosses at one and the same time. Rather 
am I to become active where I either have to bear a cross myself and/or where 
a “neighbour” depends on me to make his cross my own too. 


against the grain and constitutes, so to speak, a somewhat uncom- 
fortable foreign body. As a rule, what integration there is may be 
described as “non-integrated”. But I have also said (and the whole 
essay was meant to show this) that, in the Bible, God, the world 
and human beings are viewed in such a way that those who follow 
the man from Nazareth are given the possibility of living, not 
against and not parallel to, but with each other. Each is free to be 
what he or she is, with the corresponding strengths and weaknesses. 
Without suppressing our weaknesses, without boasting of our 
strengths, we integrate both into our common life. Correspondingly 
we accept that others, too, with their strengths and weaknesses, 
integrate with us in our own sphere of life. In other words, diaconia 
does not mean that we, also, do what others do and call “social 
work” (or some such term) . In the light of the Bible we ought to, 
and should be able to, introduce a new emphasis in diaconia. 
Instead of reducing integration to a mere appendix to our other 
activities, we should make it part of our way of life. In other words, 
we should understand it as “integrated integration”. This certainly 
will mean more than just a new motivation for diaconia — in some 
circumstances it may call for a reappraisal of our objectives — and 
it will definitely mean we have to assign a wholly new importance 
and value to social action within the pattern of our lives. 



“How could it be a beau sejour?” I asked myself 
bitterly as, after an 120 day stay in one hospital, I 
was being taken to another of that name. I had 
expected to be able to return home, and receive 
treatment on an out-patient basis but, as I was 
slowly learning, the doctors often change the rules 
in the middle of the game. This was only another 
case in point. 

The first days at Beau Sejour were spent in sullen 
resentment, rage, and self-pity. But even then I was 
impressed by my survey of the place. Everywhere I 
looked there were people, many in worse condition 
than I, many of whom had suffered more than I— 
people in bed, people in wheelchairs, people on 
crutches, people with canes, people walking with the 
help of therapists, and people launching out for the 
first time themselves. 

The spirit of the place was contagious. Here one 
faced the most discouraging and dismaying dis- 
abilities, worked at overcoming those that responded 
to treatment, defeated them as a matter of course, 
and accepted what was not defeatable. Here one 
lived with the back against the wall, shorn of all 
pretense of “normality” or “health”. But precisely 
this honesty and frankness helped to produce a 
remarkable spirit. Here there were none who excelled, 
no prima donnas, only people in need of help who 
were there because they admitted it. Here there was 
no cut-throat competition or “every man for himself” 
att it ude—in stead, each person worked at overcoming 
his own handicap, did what he could to help his 
colleagues where his disability was different, and 
accepted, in turn, help from the same person who 
could function in some way in which he could not. 

This kind of life can produce a kind of euphoria. One 
forgets how it is out in the “real” world of normal 


life. At Beau Sejour one can laugh in truly tragic 
situations, because each person there is the victim 
of some kind of tragedy, and even small victories 
are to be celebrated— life can do little more than it has 
already to most of these people. One can truly give 
of oneself without being victimized, because all are 
in need of being given to. And one can truly receive, 
because one has admitted his need by coming there 
in the first place. 

So, seen in retrospect, it was a “beau sejour” 
indeed. It was a case of, as Jesus truly said, “Blessed 
are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of 

Gerald F. Moede 


Part II : Practical Steps 


Martin Schroter 

It was with the idea that something needed to be done to help the 
handicapped that two Scharnhorst families with handicapped 
(spastic) children and two members of the protestant ‘’Shalom” 
congregation began to work together in the winter of 1970/71. 

We began by finding out the names and addresses of families where 
there was a handicapped member; we visited them, spoke to them 
in the street, and made enquiries about them among the congre- 
gation. When we had collected twenty-one addresses, we sent out 
the first invitation, in the names of the protestant and catholic 
congregations and the local welfare office. In this invitation we 

There are handicapped people living in our neighbourhood. We 
have more than twenty names, and do not know how many 
more there may be. This letter is addressed to you because we 
understand that you are among those affected . . . 

Do the families with handicapped members know one another? 
They must all have the same problems. Would it not help for 
them to share their experiences? Might a cooperative effort 
not perhaps help to solve a lot of problems? . . . 

Translated from German by WCC Language Service 

• Martin Schroter was born in Czechoslovakia. He studied theology after 
World War 11 and served the Churches in Baden and Westphalia in various 
capacities. He became well known as student chaplain in the University of 
Heidelberg and as the moderator of the Working Group in the Federal Republic 
of Germany in defence of conscientious objectors. Since 1970 he has been a 
parish minister in Scharnhorst, a new settlement area in the vicinity of the 
mining city of Dortmund. 


We are planning an aid-for-the-handicapped action. We do not 
want to go on waiting for things to change of their own accord. 
We want to try and do something ourselves to improve the lot 
of our handicapped children and our own lot . . . 

As a first step we propose that handicapped people or members 
of their families should meet and tell one another about their 
experiences . . . 

What we want is to get to know one another, to share our 
experiences (good or bad), to find out where we need advice, 
where we need money, and how we can give one another help 
and support. . . 

At this first meeting no representative of official authorities or 
social institutions will be present. We just want to meet one 
another as Scharnhorst residents sharing the same problems. 

In response to the twenty-one invitations, fourteen people turned 
up. They were mainly parents of handicapped children, but there 
were also two other interested Scharnhorst residents and four staff 
members from the two church congregations. The primary object 
of this meeting was to make contact and exchange experiences. 
Everyone talked almost without stopping, and there was no 
question of holding any systematic discussion. We separated 
agreeing to meet again in two weeks’ time. 

At the second meeting we took an important decision — we went 
on from talk to action. We made plans to organize a three-weeks’ 
stay, away from the centre of town, for families with handicapped 
members during the summer holidays. This holiday arrangement 
gave us our first important lesson. Looking back later we wrote: 

We had considerably underestimated the difficulties of the project. 
We concentrated too much on the physically handicapped and 
forgot about behavioural difficulties , both in the individual and in 
the group. Some of the handicapped children required more 
individual attention than the group of helpers could provide. The 
helpers had no expert guidance . Nevertheless this holiday arrange- 
ment was valuable for the overall progress of our plan , because 
we were able to get to know one another well — the children got 
to know one another , as did helpers and families , and the different 
families among themselves. This first group holiday laid the 
foundation on which a feeling of solidarity could develop. 

First Principles 

None of us had specialized experience in work for the handicapped. 
We were not professionals. We had no clear ideas. But there were 
certain basic principles which we could see plainly from the start: 


We did not want to make any distinction between different kinds 
of handicap — the physically handicapped, mentally handi- 
capped, the blind, epileptics and so on. We wanted to form one 
group. We did not want to set up any hierarchy between those 
who were (still) able to do something and those who were not. 

We did not want to take the handicapped out of their families 
and put them into a kind of ghetto for the handicapped. 

We did not want to have any age limit: from babies to grand- 
parents, anyone who wanted to join our group could do so. 

We did not want to become a relief organization: we wanted to 
have an open door so that anyone interested in collaborating 
in the work could come, or could stay away if his interest 

From the outset, what really mattered was presence, interest, col- 
laboration and, of course, living and learning together. We had 
to feel our way forward, accepting reverses and benefiting from 
them. It was in this way that the project really developed into 
common action. 

This process also determined our structure. We are a kind of 
citizens’ movement, resting legally and organizationally on the 
protestant Shalom congregation. At the beginning it was an open 
question as to whether it would not be better to set up a registered 
association in order to ensure our independence. We decided not 
to set up a formal association, so as to remain open for everybody. 
We have no membership, no officers, no constitution, there are 
no contributions to be paid. When we apply for or receive public 
money, the Shalom congregation acts as our legal agent. 

This loose structure has its disadvantages, of course. We are never 
sure on whom we can rely. There are periods of close contact and 
lively activity, alternating with periods of general apathy. Gener- 
ally speaking we do not know the precise reasons for this. 

Who runs or directs it all? In the beginning the four people who 
had launched the idea carried the entire responsibility. Then we 
set up a so-called working committee, but there were difficulties 
in selecting and being selected because the group was inexperienced 
in democratic procedures. We have, therefore, now adopted the 
practice of summoning an open working committee, which meets 
once a week, and to which anyone can come. Everyone has the 
right to speak, everyone takes part in decisions, and all important 
decisions are made there. At the present time the meetings are 
attended by between 15 and 20 people — handicapped adults, 
mothers of handicapped children or young people, and other 
adults who are collaborating in this action. 


Collaboration and Collaborators 

In general all those who come to us are encouraged to help, but 
some are more active than others. Many people find the collabor- 
ation difficult because it means learning and changing one’s atti- 
tude or behaviour towards handicapped persons. The parents of 
handicapped children and other people concerned with the handi- 
capped often have very fixed ideas in this respect. 

In the course of time, therefore, we have encountered a number of 
obstacles which we either had not foreseen at the beginning or had 
not thought to be important. In the first place, many handicapped 
people are, in fact, dependent on the help of non-handicapped. 
Many of them have to be washed, fed, taken to the toilet, etc. How 
can such a handicapped person develop normal self-confidence? 
How can he ever say “I am just as good as you”? How does he 
feel when he continually has to say “please” and “thank you”? 
It becomes second nature to the handicapped to submit, to be 
obedient, to fall in with other people. He is made incapable of 
fighting for his rights. In the end he will just say “thank you” when 
after much discussion the social welfare authorities finally grant 
him one thing or another that he is entitled to anyway. And the 
non-handicapped are tempted to do all sorts of things for the 
handicapped — such as going to the supermarket or filling in an 
application form for the social welfare office. We all have a difficult 
lesson to learn: the handicapped must learn to accept help only 
when they really cannot manage something for themselves; and the 
non-handicapped must learn to offer help only when the handi- 
capped really cannot do the thing alone. 

Every meeting and every gathering is a school where this lesson can 
be learned by both. What is needed more than anything else is 
mutual trust, so that the extremely diverse circle of collaborators 
(in the widest sense) can go through this learning process together. 

There are some handicapped people, adults or even young ones, 
who like to be waited on. There are some non-handicapped who 
get satisfaction in doing as much as possible for the handicapped. 
There are parents of handicapped children who not only think that 
they have the best experience in dealing with handicapped people 
but also feel that they are more competent than their fellow 
workers because of the special difficulties of their own family 
situation. These people take criticism hard: (“If you only knew 
what I have to go through day after day!”) Then there are the 
students or probationers who are learning to work with the handi- 
capped but are often used by the families simply as servants. And 
if they protest they are called impertinent or lazy. (This can also 
happen to conscientious objectors who are doing their sixteen 
months of civilian service by working with the handicapped). 


All this shows what little things we have to learn — quite ordinary 
human things — and by what small steps we progress — if we do 
progress at all. All in all our Aid-for-the-handicapped Group is 
just an attempt to bring together a few families with handicapped 
members in one particular district, and thus help them to improve 
their own living conditions, and those of the handicapped persons 
in their midst. 

Types of Activity 

For a long time we had to experiment with different forms of com- 
munal life, trying one thing after another. After the first group 
holiday, we went on for a time with monthly open meetings, but it 
very soon became obvious that the group were not interested in 
studying their problems more systematically. What emerged was 
a strong need for informal discussion and especially for social 
activities. People wanted to go on excursions together, hold social 
evenings, dance together. Over the years the following activities 
have developed. 

• Group holiday out of town 

This year (1977) will be the seventh time we have arranged an 
out-of-town holiday for handicapped persons and their families. 
We have discovered that many families who come have no other 
chance of taking a holiday. Year by year our work crystallizes 
round this gathering. People who have been living together for 
three weeks, Monday to Friday, get to know one another well 
and stay in more or less close contact afterwards. We started 
by involving the mothers in the educational activities during the 
gathering, but later we changed over and entrusted the edu- 
cational work with children, adolescents and young handi- 
capped adults to students or young people who have been 
trained for this work and who often regard it as an important 
aspect of their studies in remedial education of social work. 

• Contacts 

As well as excursions, social evenings, dances, and family after- 
noons, we meet regularly once a week for supper (between 50 
and 60 participants) and for swimming at the Scharnhorst 
indoor pool. These two regular weekly meetings are particu- 
larly useful occasions for families or individuals who may wish 
to join in to find out about what we are doing. 

• Educational activities 

For certain children and young people with multiple handi- 
caps we give individual therapy, complementing the therapeutic 
work for the less severely handicapped undertaken by the Dia- 
konisches Werk in the town. Once a week there is a play-group 


bringing together some 15 mentally retarded and severely 
socially handicapped children. Every Saturday morning another 
play-group meets, with about 15 mentally and physically handi- 
capped children, adolescents and young adults. As the first- 
mentioned play-group is only loosely connected with our self- 
help-for-the-handicapped action and as we do not know the 
parents of the children well, we specifically try to involve the 
parents in the work. 

• Publicity 

Information of general interest is distributed through internal 
circulars, and news items and reports are, of course, sent to the 
local press. Very important are the public meetings on particular 
subjects which we have been organizing for about a year and a 
half, jointly with the Dortmund “Club for Handicapped Per- 
sons and their Friends (Reg.)”. Lately we have been working 
intensively on the subject of workshops for the handicapped, 
looking critically at the situation of the handicapped worker in 
such a workshop from the legal, social, psychological and thera- 
peutic angle. We often realize at such meetings how easy it is to 
go beyond the intellectual capacity of the participants. And also 
how quickly we lose sight of the mentally handicapped: we talk 
about them and not with them. We always have the greatest 
success with meetings where legal and social questions are 
explained, for instance what a handicapped person is entitled 
to claim under the national social assistance law. Over the 
years we have conducted a series of campaigns among the public: 
an information-stand and a collection to enable us to engage a 
young man doing civilian national service; an appeal for the 
installation of a buzzing signal for the blind at two pedestrian 
crossings; a demonstration for a passenger-lift at the Scharn- 
horst indoor swimming-pool (which the municipal authorities 
had hitherto refused to instal); an approach to the authorities 
requesting the levelling of the kerb-stones (the city authorities 
have agreed to this in their three-year plan for the Scharnhorst 
development area); the collection of signatures and a campaign 
for the installation of passenger-lifts in the houses of the two 
resident doctors in the new town (this campaign is still in 

• Counselling 

We try to advise one another on social and legal questions. 
Some of our workers have become experts in the federal social 
assistance law. This sometimes brings us into conflict with the 
professionals in the local social welfare office, because our 
workers sometimes know the provisions of the law and the 
relevant regulations better than the officials do. Here we think 


it is important not only for a particular family or handicapped 
individual to be helped to get what they are entitled to, but also 
for them to become more self-confident. They ought to be able 
to claim their rights themselves. For our part, we want to con- 
tribute to changing the social situation — which Ernst Klee 
once described as follows: “The handicapped are Germany’s 
largest and most submissive marginal group”. The vast majority 
of handicapped people prefer to let their relatives (parents or 
marriage partners) or other “advocates” deal with the auth- 
orities on their behalf, rather than make an effort themselves to 
present applications, negotiate, inform themselves, protest, and 
persist until they succeed. 

• “Dry branches” 

We once made a drawing of a tree, showing our different types 
of common action and communal life. There are some dry 
branches on the tree, representing the efforts which over the 
years did not succeed, things which went wrong, which did not 
prosper. We tried at one time to follow up the out-of-town 
holiday with an afternoon coffee meeting on a particular day 
of the week. This attempt was not successful because one or 
two of the women persisted in always talking about their own 
problems until finally the others got bored. Another time several 
of the parents used to meet regularly by turns in one or other of 
their homes. This lasted for a few months but gradually faded 
out, perhaps because the regularity was felt to be too great an 
obligation. Following the 1975 holiday, the mothers who had 
been present agreed among themselves to meet in the evening 
once a fortnight throughout the winter to study a particular 
subject or just to chat, or to go to the theatre or for some other 
recreation. This group too kept it up for only four or five 
months. The offer of a qualified psychologist to give advice on 
training to individual families found very little response. Such 
advice would certainly have been very helpful to many of the 
families, but most of them probably felt too inhibited to take 
up the offer. It does indeed call for a considerable readiness to 
accept criticism and to modify deep-seated attitudes to education 
and that is just what many people, especially worker families, 
dread. For about two years their existed a so-called youth club: 
a few young people, handicapped and non-handicapped, of the 
same age-group used to meet one afternoon a week to do 
various things together. This group gradually broke up and 
finally ceased to exist. It has now been replaced by “Jugend- 
stammtisch”: youngsters and young adults, both handicapped 
and non-handicapped, including some students, meet once a 
week for supper at a communal table, they eat together, talk, 
and do something together afterwards. This youth group has 


not been going very long and we do not yet know how it will 
develop. We tried with one family, in which there is a 15-year- 
old multiple handicapped girl and a seriously epileptic father, 
to organize a regular games evening. Although the members of 
this family enjoyed playing games, the players did not have 
enough persistence to keep up such a weekly commitment. Over 
and over again we have tried to find ways of getting handicapped 
people to interest themselves or engage themselves in social 
problems other than their own. For a time there was a flourish- 
ing tenants’ association in the Shalom congregation. We tried 
to bring representatives of this to talk with our group about 
particular problems and to find ways of possibly collaborating 
in one thing or another. After all, handicapped people are also 
tenants! This attempt failed, probably because we expected too 
much from the people on both sides. Political maturity and the 
will to bring about social changes can only begin with elementary 
daily personal interests. We are obviously still far away from 
our objective of integrating the depressed or underprivileged 
groups into our society. 

• Working Contacts 

In the course of time a large number of useful working contacts 
have been made. We have linked with other movements and 
groups similar to our own, because we are anxious to learn 
from one another, to share our experiences, and perhaps 
together develop the ideas we have in common. And we have seen 
that public efforts directed towards improving the quality of 
life of handicapped people and their families take many dif- 
ferent lines and that there are many possibilities open to us. 

Our Aims 

Six months after beginning our action, i.e. at the end of 1971, we 

tried to formulate four general aims for our work: 

• The families with handicapped members should get to know one 
another and try to bring other handicapped persons out of their 

• All those concerned should try to help themselves and thus 
improve the handicapped’s chances in life, especially the chances 
of handicapped children. 

• We want by various means to bring the plight of the handicapped 
to the attention of our fellow-citizens, so that the handicapped 
are recognized as full members of society. 


• We want to bring more pressure to bear in political and social 
quarters, so that the Federal Republic does not continue to be, 
so to speak, one of the developing countries where assistance 
for the handicapped is concerned. 

This is the line we have held to through all our ups and downs, and 
with this aim we have changed the name of our action from “Help 
for the Handicapped” to ‘ Self-help for the Handicapped”. We 
hope that the handicapped, at least in our settlement and perhaps 
even in our whole district, have won their place in society — even 
if it is not yet exactly “a place in the sun”. 

( Summer 1977 ) 


0 Father God, how gracious thou art! 

How steadfast is thy unfailing love for all thy 

Without knowledge of thee I should surely have 

For my usual relationships were all cut off. 

My body would not sustain them, I was cast upon 

I could not speak to express my needs or tell of 
my love; 

I could not hear to be reassured of others’ love 
for me; 

I could not see — your creation became a nebu- 
lous vaporous blur; 

I could not eat — my body became a living skel- 

I could not drink — my mouth was for three 
months an arid desert; 

I could not move — my body became an immov- 
able, crushing weight; 

I could not even breathe, and a machine kept me 


My helplessness and dependence were complete, 
which only increased my frustration. 

Others decided every aspect of my life — 

When I would sleep, 

When I would wake, 

How much or how little I would hurt, 

Where my children would be — 

My life, my will, were not my own. 

And yet, precisely in this complete dependence and 
utter helplessness, 

Thou hast found me in a new way, O Lord. 
Thou hast reminded me that this condition is 
A parable of my existence — 

That I am helpless in my sin and 
Dependent on thy grace; 

That the loving, saving care I have received, 

Is but a pale shadow compared with thine. 

For this new insight, and your continuing love and 

I thank thee and praise thy name. 



Oh, Lord my God, 

Why art thou so far from me? 

Why has this pestilence overtaken me? 

My body is a source of wonder among men, 

My throat an open burning gorge, 

My legs like strips, my arms like twigs 
without strength to obey my will 
My mouth a dry and arid land, 

My eyes are telling falsehoods, 

My ears nothing at all. 

Where are my friends, 

Those who love me? 

Separated by the chasm of health, 
the abyss of strong muscles, 
a full belly and a sweet-tasting mouth. 

Yet only their love sustains me. 

Return in thy mercy, O Lord. 

Keep not thy steadfast love from me, 

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, 

And I shall praise thy name in the Congregation. 


Oh Lord our Lord, 

How wondrous is thy name o’er all the earth! 
Thy works are glorious in my sight, 
even passing my understanding. 

When I was laid low, 

When there was none to comfort, 

When tears were my only drink, 
and their salt my only food, 

Then you came to me and fed me. 

When I despaired of my own strength, 

You came and surprised me, 

So that I may yet anticipate deliverance. 

Oh Lord our Lord, 

How wondrous is thy name o’er all the earth! 




In recent years in Switzerland, many parents of mentally handi- 
capped children have formed themselves into associations to help 
them as they try, in a great variety of ways, to fulfill the tasks and 
duties they face as parents in these circumstances. The Swiss Feder- 
ation of Associations of Parents of Mentally Handicapped Children* 
is concerned with, among other things, the Christian instruction 
and religious training of these children, and its member associations 
have endeavoured, with much imagination and energy to promote 
their education in the Christian faith and their integration into the 
life of the Christian community. 

The particular emphasis is on integration. For example, groups of 
handicapped children being instructed in catechism or being pre- 
pared for confirmation are brought into active contact with a 
“normal” parish, which then becomes a kind of sponsor for them. 
This makes it clear from the outset that the community of Jesus 
Christ must include both the able-bodied and the handicapped. It 
is strange to see how inhibited the parishes can be when it comes to 
receiving these first communicants in their midst. More valuable, 
however, is the positive experience of enrichment which they gain 
from contact with handicapped children. 

The first of the following texts reports on this experiment with 
sponsor parishes. There are four articles in all, written by people 
who have been involved in the work, and giving some of the insights 
and perspectives they have found. Apart from the evaluation of the 
sponsor experiment, there are some reflections on integrated 
worship, a study of the needs which must be taken into account 
when offering religious instruction to mentally handicapped chil- 
dren, and a collection of theological and catechetical considerations 
for the work with them. (Note of Ed.) 

* Headquartered in Biel. 



Jean Wahl 

“People are afraid of doing the wrong thing and not knowing what 
to do.” Such was the reaction in 1965 when the parish of Paquier- 
Demoret in the Canton of Vaud was asked to become the first 
“sponsor parish” for a group of mentally retarded young com- 
municants. When the same request was made to the parishes of 
Belmont, Grandvaux and Pully, the same reaction was received. 
And the parish of Saint Jean in Lausanne was no different. 

When a parish agrees to act as sponsor for mentally handicapped 
communicants, what is its task? During the two, or nowadays 
three, years for which the special communicants’ classes last, the 
group and their parents are invited regularly, either to the services 
or to any of the normal activities of the parish, depending on the 
facilities and equipment available and any ideas the congregation 
may have. At the end of the course, confirmation takes place at a 
regular service in the sponsor parish. 

Why this fear of doing the wrong thing? Psychologists might con- 
tend that it is in fact the expression of an unconscious rejection of 
the handicapped. But we, who are responsible for religious instruc- 
tion, look on it as evidence of goodwill through which, with a 
greater or lesser degree of success, we can help the two groups 
gradually to get to know each other, which is an essential step in 
the process of integration. 

About fifteen Vaudois parishes have now had the experience of 
acting as a sponsor parish and I think the reaction of one parish 
elder after the confirmation service sums up in a very down-to-earth 
way what it has meant to them. He said, “One service like that is 
worth twenty sermons any day”. 

The process of integration was also promoted by two events which 
took place in 1975 and 1976. 

The immediate purpose of the campaign ‘Vieilles Cloches — Sons 
Nouveaux’ (old bells — new sounds), launched by the Protestant 
Church in the Canton of Vaud in November 1975, was to find old 

• Jean Wahl, engineer, was formerly a member of the consistory of the 
national Protestant Church of Geneva. He is president of the Swiss Federation 
of Associations of Parents of Mentally Handicapped Children, and president 
of the Swiss Commission for the Study of Problems of Mental Disability. 


bells which were not in use and to transfer them to the bell tower and 
the chapel being constructed in two large institutions for the men- 
tally handicapped. However, it also had the goal of “making as 
many people as possible realize that the mentally handicapped not 
only have their place in the love of God, and their place in the 
Church of Jesus Christ, they also have a ministry to fulfil among us”. 

On the day before Easter 1976, as a reminder of this and as part 
of a campaign called ‘the Seed of Hope’, we placed a little house 
plant grown by one institution for the mentally handicapped and 
a piece of weaving or some other piece of handiwork produced in 
another home in all the places where an Easter service was to be 
celebrated the next day. 

We also left a brief note to explain the meaning of the parable: 
just as this plant needs a little water and a lot of light if it is to 
thrive, so all of us, handicapped and non-handicapped alike, live 
from the light of Easter; the plant that is placed here will represent 
the mentally handicapped person with whom we share — or do 
not share — the light of the Resurrection. 

These positive experiences cannot allow us to forget the rejection 
or indifference we still meet. 

There are three forms of rejection — 

Political: mental disability is the preserve of a social policy 
which will have nothing to do with a Gospel that respects the 
human person. 

Theological: the mentally handicapped are either rejected 
because they do not understand , or else are easy victims of a 
certain fanatical proselytism. 

Sentimental: some pastors still reject the idea of special com- 
municants’ classes and instead instruct the child separately at 
home, for fear the poor little thing should be lost to the pastor’s 
own parish. 

Where the theological and emotional objections can be overcome, 
however, there open up healthy, often unexpected experiences. 
Over and over again we are now hearing: “Reverend, there are two 
events which have decidedly influenced my spiritual life. One is the 
confirmation service of mentally handicapped communicants in my 
parish.” It is sure that many experience a spiritual awakening in 
such common worship. They experience fellowship on a non- 
intellectual level, which brings both balance and enrichment to 
their faith. We can, of course, talk of these experiences, but the 


real content of what we experience eludes rational definition. Any 
attempt to rationalize misses the reality of such worship services 
during which we experience, in an identical way with the mentally 
handicapped children, how the life of God comes alive in us. It is, 
however, precisely at this point that we come up against a wall of 
stronger resistance on the side of a rationally determined church 
culture. It happens again and again that patterns of religious 
instruction are developed which apply to a too high intellectual 
level. The pedagogical experiences made in work with mentally 
handicapped children are not given enough consideration. The gulf 
between the able-bodied and the handicapped and the restrictions 
it brings are constantly to be noted. Here we must start from the 
conviction that in the fellowship of the faith handicapped and non- 
handicapped are partners. There are areas where the handicapped 
are un-handicapped and the non-handicapped are handicapped. 
In the understanding of faith, it is therefore not for the able-bodied 
to judge the handicapped according to their own non-handicapped 
standards. The handicapped have their own way of believing and 
it is in that way that they must be strengthened. 

If we speak of the handicapped and non-handicapped as partners, 
we must remember that this partnership is not merely between two 
persons or groups, but that God also belongs to it. The partnership 
must be seen as a triangle. Since God has accepted all human beings, 
we have been made partners. Where this is taken into consideration, 
then the handicapped can find a place for their faith without it 
being formed, determined or judged according to the standards of 
the non-handicapped. People who are mentally handicapped live, 
for us, handicapped lives, curtailed by suffering, and show us that 
such a life can be lived. When we accept this we shall no longer 
try to lead the handicapped into the way of true faith and deeper 
knowledge of doctrine; we shall no longer forbid them their own 
form of faith but shall accept it and include it. Only where openness 
and caution are genuine can the non-handicapped assume the task 
given to them as partners by the handicapped, to act on their behalf 
whenever their handicap prevents them from fulfilling all the 
possibilities of partnership. 

Full partnership between the handicapped and the non-handicapped 
is cruel. The more we acknowledge them rights they are unable to 
assume, the more they have to live with their helplessness. We must 
allow the handicapped their place and their possibilities. There are 
also cases where they are pushed into false focus, for instance in 
worship services which are organized for them. Handicapped per- 
sons can also experience that God is focal point and that through 
him they have their particular place. The strength of the faith given 
to them is that, despite their limitations, they can fill that allotted 



M. Lezzi 

The Ideas Underlying the Work on Integration 

As a rule a great deal is done nowadays to help a mentally handi- 
capped person. There are special kindergartens, special schools, 
training workshops, sheltered workshops, special residential homes, 
special leisure groups. Without wishing in any way to detract from 
the value of all these special facilities, it does seem clear that the 
system of separate facilities providing care, occupation and accom- 
modation for the mentally handicapped contains the inherent 
danger of isolation. This is further reinforced by the complexity of 
our technical civilization and the attitude of our production- 
oriented society towards those who are less able to produce. 

Isolation means that the whole area of experience involving normal 
contacts between the handicapped and the non-handicapped, 
joining in common activities, sharing joy and sadness, is lacking 
for both groups. The lack is no doubt felt most by the handicapped, 
but not even necessarily by them and not always to the same extent. 
Over and above such subjective considerations, however, there is 
an extremely important objective angle to be considered: a society 
which has no real, active relations with one group of its fellow 
citizens is liable to misunderstand that group of people, to look 
on them as alien and, in an extreme case, want to rid itself of them. 

In the Christian community as we understand it in light of the 
Gospel, human beings are valued not on account of their economic 
efficiency and intelligence, but because they are the children of God 
who calls us to live with one another and for one another. Under- 
standing for their handicapped fellow human beings and the 
willingness to live together with them are therefore things that can 
be expected of the Christian community. This is why we have 
concentrated our efforts for integration first of all on the life of 
the church congregation, with its customary activities and forms 
of fellowship. 

I would repeat, therefore, that basically we are thinking in our 
work of the life of the Christian community rather than church 
instruction for the mentally handicapped with a view to converting 
them or perfecting their faith. Still less can the central concern of 
our work be to provide an opportunity for the non-handicapped 
members of the community to exercise their Christian love for their 
neighbour on their less fortunate fellows. 


Planning and Conducting an Integrated Service 

It is essential that a group be formed to be responsible for the 
integrated service and related events. Ideally, the team is composed 
of the parish minister, handicapped or parents of handicapped 
children, as well as persons having particular experience with the 
mentally handicapped, such as teacher, social worker, youth group 
leader, etc. 

At the first meeting of this group, all the external details will 
usually be settled because these generally need to be planned earlier 
than the actual content of the worship. This means things like how 
the handicapped group are to get to the church, should a snack or 
a congregational lunch be organized afterwards, or perhaps even 
a games afternoon, a film show or something of the sort. Will it 
be possible to prepare the congregation to meet a group of mentally 
handicapped children by arranging a lecture or a film on the 
subject? Whenever it is at all possible, arrangements should be 
made for the people actively involved in the service (the minister, 
and other helpers) to be given an introduction of this kind and 
then to visit the mentally handicapped group at their school or 
workshop. Even a brief opportunity to meet in this way is a great 
help in creating a warm and friendly atmosphere and ensuring the 
success of the occasion. It is equally important to think in plenty 
of time about publicity and information in the local press, and 
about sending out invitations, for instance to families with handi- 
capped children living in the parish . 

In planning the actual service it is also best to begin with the 
general framework, i.e. the liturgy. How can the children and 
young people, handicapped and non-handicapped, together or in 
turns, help to enliven the service with music, singing, dancing or 
mime? Which members of the team are to prepare the different 
prayers, readings or stories, the short sermon or any scene to be 
enacted? I have generally found it easiest if the theme of the service 
is not discussed until this point in the preparations when it suggests 
itself quite naturally within the framework of the requirements 
already established. By this I mean the age, receptiveness and 
situation of the mentally handicapped group and the need to 
relate the whole thing to their own experience, while also bearing 
in mind the other people who will be attending the service. The 
capabilities and preferences of the team must, of course, be taken 
into consideration also. Lastly, or perhaps even firstly, the most 
important factor in deciding on a theme may be the possibility of 
illustrating it by a visual presentation of a bible story or an acted 

On no account should the theme chosen have anything to do with 
handicap or a handicapped person. A mentally handicapped person 


is not as a rule able to understand his own handicap in intellectual 
or religious terms, but more often than people generally realize is 
aware when it is being discussed. The most suitable themes are 
ones that lend themselves to being related in a simple and direct 
way to the mentally handicapped person’s daily experience: for 
example, the pleasure of eating and drinking, the fun of playing, 
the joy of giving and receiving presents, of being praised, of doing 
things well, the sorrow of physical pain, of losing something, the 
fear of danger (dogs, for instance), the feeling of security in the 
company of kind people, etc. 

It is hoped that the following points will give some assistance and 
guidance as to how church services with mentally handicapped 
people can be organized with fewer hitches and unfortunate side- 
effects. These are not in any way points of dogma that have to be 
strictly adhered to. 

• The mentally handicapped and their disability should never be 
discussed in their presence. 

• Mentally handicapped persons should never be wrongly used as 
objects on display. 

• Care must be taken not to overtax the handicapped group either 
physically or emotionally (this applies among other things to 
the length of the service or the function planned). 

• The proportion of mentally handicapped to other participants 
should be kept to a sensible level (approx 10%). 

• Each one of the mentally handicapped group should have one 
particular person to relate to so that he or she is not overwhelmed 
by the crowd of people. 

• The attention span of a mentally handicapped person is short, 
therefore variety is essential. 

• The handicapped person wants to know what is happening so 
all parts of the programme should be clearly announced and 
the people involved introduced. 

• The spontaneity of the handicapped person’s speech and behav- 
iour should be naturally incorporated into the course of things 
and not silenced. 

• Active participation should be provided for (singing, movements, 

• Accents and dialects should be used. 


• Also music, for the mentally handicapped are fond of music. 

• Attendance at the service should be voluntary and this also 
applies to the parents of the mentally handicapped children. 

• The other people attending the service must be prepared for the 
presence of the mentally handicapped group and the peculiar- 
ities of their behaviour. 

• The mentally handicapped must be prepared for the most excit- 
ing event in the proceedings. 

Of elemental importance is visual presentation in the integrated 
service. By this perhaps not entirely happy choice of phrase I mean 
the moment in the church service when the congregation can 
experience the spiritual content of the chosen theme as the handi- 
capped and non-handicapped act it out together. As I have already 
mentioned, this may often be the only way to convey the good news 
to a mentally handicapped person. 

This is one of the ideas behind an active visual presentation of the 
theme. The other relates to our chief concern, which is integration. 
When the initial contact with our non-handicapped fellow human 
beings calls for such an effort on our part, how much greater is the 
effort needed to overcome the feeling of uncertainty, alienation or 
even revulsion experienced by some people when confronted with 
a mentally handicapped or brain damaged person. These, to my 
mind, natural reactions can be counteracted by knowledge based 
on sound information and reflection on the facts; the intellect can 
play an important part in bringing about a rapprochement between 
people. However, as anyone who has had the experience can testify, 
it is only by doing things together, talking together and by real, 
close contacts, sharing the same deeply felt experience, that the 
barriers which can only be pushed back a little by reason can be 
entirely eliminated, at least for a short time. An integrated service, 
and especially the scenic presentation incorporated in it, seeks to 
help people towards this experience because it then becomes easier 
for them to move forward together. And in any case, surely the 
mentally handicapped people themselves generally make it easy 
for us to cross these barriers by their own uninhibited spontaneity, 
cheerfulness and enthusiasm. 

As I have already mentioned several times, the choice of theme and 
the form of the scene to be acted will be determined by apparently 
extraneous factors. In planning such a presentation, the following 
points should always be borne in mind: 

• What do people (handicapped and non-handicapped) like 


• What can both groups do without any preparation? 

• What will involve as many of them as possible? 

It is not easy to keep sight of all these considerations at once. 
Since, in addition, the scene presented is supposed to have a 
deeper meaning for both groups, some people may be inclined to 
think that it can never be successfully carried out anywhere, let 
alone in the rather solemn setting of a church. I have now either 
attended or arranged several such presentations; each one has been 
different and each one has been an experience. 

One thing that has to be emphasized, however, is that while success- 
ful presentations of this kind may look like an unplanned “hap- 
pening”, they in fact require extremely careful preparation, both 
from the technical as well as theological and pedagogical point of 
view. Without such careful preparation the meaning of the scene 
presented is either lost or misunderstood, or else the actual pre- 
sentation ends in very real embarrassment. It may take the team 
preparing the scene several sessions to develop the theological 
content of a bible story, parable or saying. They will certainly 
require the assistance of a theologian (for obvious reasons). 
Personally, I have always found that the process of transposing the 
historical text into an easily understandable experience, i.e. into 
actions, has helped to give me a better understanding of the bible 
passage in question. Nor should the importance of the technical 
preparations of the producer be underestimated. To react properly 
to all eventualities in the actual presentation, he must have, besides 
presence of mind and a sense of humour, an accurate knowledge of 
the church building and its equipment (microphones) and a good 
idea of how the people attending the service are likely to behave. 
If the producer already knows a number of the voluntary /involuntary 
actors this can contribute greatly to the success of the whole thing. 
If in addition members of the preparation team who know the 
individual reactions of a number of the other participants (from 
work or leisure activities) mingle unobtrusively with the actors, 
knowing the intended course of events, then it is unlikely that 
anything can go wrong. 

Three Examples of Visual Presentations 

As all this may sound rather theoretical, I want now to give a brief 
description of three scenes that I have seen acted out: 

The crossing of the Red Sea. Three mixed groups of children rep- 
resenting the sea, the Israelites and the Egyptians. Action: the sea 


forms a passage for the children of Israel but does not let the 
Egyptians through. Underlying meaning: a marginal group’s fear 
at the apparent hopelessness of their situation is transformed into 
joy by a miracle (the forbidding appearance of the sea is transformed 
into a kindly welcoming or reassuring one). Secondary aim: to 
create a corresponding situation as the children who are dying to 
see the action are allowed to pass through the rows of adults 
present at the service. 

“ Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and 
I will give you relief. ”. A group of mentally handicapped adults 
demonstrate the relaxing and breathing exercises they do during 
break-times at their workshops. Their enthusiasm prompts first 
the preparation team and then the whole congregation to join in 
and do the same. Aim: to relax the rather solemn and downcast 
atmosphere produced by this text on this occasion and to do so 
not only in the figurative spiritual sense, but in a really visible way, 
and to shift the unspoken emphasis away from the problem of the 
handicapped (relief). 

The workers in the vineyard. At intervals, mixed groups of volunteers 
to fold serviettes are called for (there is to be a congregational 
meal following the service) and at the end all the helpers receive 
one franc. Scene involving an argument about unjust reward. 
Meaning: Human idea of justice and God’s idea of justice. Meaning 
and justification of rewarding the work done by the handicapped, 
value of the human being. Aim: handicapped and non-handicapped 
work side by side. 

Limits and New Aims 

The work that has been done over the last three years or so to 
integrate the mentally handicapped into the church congregation, 
especially its worship, has been worthwhile. So the ice has been 
broken and our concern that the handicapped should be included 
in the life of a congregation is receiving more and more attention. 
At this point, it is perhaps appropriate to take a closer look at some 
of the aspects of integration. Without diminishing the great value of 
integration work, it must be recognized nevertheless that there 
are limits as to how far integration can go (i.e. the inclusion of 
mentally handicapped people in worship). 

What we must respect are the limits which lie with the mentally 
handicapped people themselves. They must not be physically or 
emotionally overtaxed, or at least not beyond a reasonable level. 
They must not be deprived of the protection they need. These 


limits necessarily exclude a number of mentally handicapped people 
from the possible forms of integration we have been mainly encour- 
aging so far. I am thinking of handicapped persons who cannot be 
moved to take part in events outside of their homes or with friends 
or larger groups. Their integration into our society is not yet 
solved, and we must be quite clear about that. 

Nor can the limits of the relatives (particularly parents) be lightly 
set aside. We can, of course, try through personal conversations 
along with other parents to persuade them to participate, and 
often it only needs a little encouragement to make them come out 
of their isolation. However, it is dangerous to exert any moral 
pressure on them because it may have adverse effects for the child. 
Long years of bitter experience and difficulties with the world 
around them cannot suddenly be wiped out in the course of one 
integrated service. 

Are there any limits that need to be respected for non-handicapped 
people or the congregation attending the service? Should we bother 
about the fact that some people are irritated by the loud talking, 
uncontrolled movements, unattractive faces and restlessness of the 
mentally handicapped? These, too, are far from easy questions 
and certainly no systematic answer can be given to them. My own 
opinion would be that an aggressive attitude towards such people 
does our cause no good. On the other hand, I always feel extremely 
angry when handicapped children, who are already at a great 
disadvantage, are obliged to conform to the frequently senseless 
conventions of our society and our church tradition with their 
inhuman effects on one and all. 

Perhaps many small steps will gradually bring us closer to our 
ultimate goal, which is an understanding and natural attitude 
towards our handicapped people on the part of the population in 
general. However, it certainly cannot be taken for granted that an 
aging congregation at a Sunday morning service will stand up with 
one accord to do gymnastic exercises with the handicapped people 
and then sit down again spluttering with laughter. 

These are some aspects which threaten the success of integration 
into a worship service. Nevertheless, in many cases an integrated 
worship service can be an impulse, a sort of “ice-breaker”, towards 
facilitating contact between handicapped and non-handicapped 
persons. What is essential is that we do not just remain at this 

Integration is a long process, a continuing discourse with the 
problem of people living together. So we seek opportunities of 
furthering the process of integration also in the daily work of the 


congregation. In this respect, work with young people is especially 
important. It is equally important, however, to carry the element 
of integration over into adult work and leisure activities.* 


Article published by the Swiss Federation 
of Associations of Parents of Handicapped Children 

Catholic and Protestant catechists are all agreed that mentally 
handicapped children and adolescents have just as much right to 
a religious education as anyone else. They have a right to be 
respected as persons and we have a duty to acknowledge the human 
dignity of all, without exception. Although these children are 
handicapped, they also have their gifts. Above all, they are infinitely 
precious in God’s sight. Although they are different from others, 
they are not inferior. As suffering members of the Church, they 
can also be active members. They are ready for a personal relation- 
ship with God and are capable of a wonder bordering on adoration. 
From a Christian standpoint they should be baptized and a heavy 
responsibility rests on parents and catechists to provide a training 
which enables them to respond to their baptismal calling. 

Why Religious Instruction? 

People who work with the handicapped are often committed 
Christians. In their view, the anguish caused by a handicap can 
only be “comforted” by ethical and spiritual values. On the 
initiative of Father Bissionier, a French pioneer in this field, 
specialized catechetical groups were launched in Geneva fourteen 
years ago and in Lausanne some ten years ago. Parents wanted 
their handicapped children to be treated equally with other children; 
it rightly seemed to them that making it possible for them to be 
incorporated in the Church was a form of social integration. If 
adapted to these children, religion could also provide them with a 
reassuring experience in an atmosphere and setting of joy. Certainly 
these “much beloved brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ”, as 
Father Bissonier called them, are entitled to the attention and care 
of the people surrounding them. What is more, those who venture 
beyond the clinical methods of educational handbooks and try to 
adapt themselves to the world of the handicapped, experience a call 

* An idea of community work in which the integration of the handicapped 
themselves is an integral part , is clearly seen in the report on page 98. Leisure 
time and vacation events with the handicapped and non-handicapped is described 
in the contribution of Beyer, GDR. Here the element of youth plays a large role. 


from beyond and an insight into the supernatural world, even 
when dealing with the most retarded. The children themselves 
often make the personal discovery that there is someone who 
really loves them, who is their constant companion each day and 
gives meaning to their lives. 

Establishing Contact with these Children 

Educators in institutions live with the handicapped children with 
the close cooperation of chaplains and catechists. In this way 
a persistent and fruitful effort is made at the religious level and 
the children who are alive to this environment are integrated into 
parish worship whenever possible. 

But what of the children who are out-patients? At present these 
are far more numerous than those in institutions. In Geneva, 
there are approximately a hundred children attending special 
schools while living at home with their parents. Catechists work- 
ing with them operate as teams, generally in the ratio of one 
adult to three children and for three quarters of an hour per week. 
(The ideal would be to have a quarter of an hour with them each 
day, in view of the children’s limited capacity to pay attention.) 
Atmosphere is very important. Showing great humility and 
patience with each of them, a way must be found of establishing 
the affectionate relationship which demonstrates that when people 
love each other the presence of God is especially real. Catechists 
need to take special care to vary the available means of expression. 
The constant review of their work will compel them to experiment 
with new methods and constantly to replenish their own resources 
so as to meet the demands made on them for availability. Even 
more than patience, they will need to be alert and flexible so as 
to accommodate themselves to the rhythm of the children, and 
to be intuitive and sensitive so as to discover the hidden gateways 
to the deepest levels at which these children live. Above all, it 
must be realized that these children are often incapable of using 
or understanding words and that their mode of receiving instruc- 
tion is primarily experiential and intuitive. They live religion 
rather than theorizing about it. In a sense they need to lean on 
the conscience of the adult. The search for the individual expression 
appropriate to each child eventually makes it possible to bring 
the Bible to life and to enable him or her to identify with the 
biblical characters. 

It is therefore essential to start from the concrete rather than 
from words; to invite them to look at some object and touch 
it; it is essential to speak slowly and distinctly in simple language; 
to accompany the word with a suitable gesture which will gain 
and direct their attention, and to avoid all fussiness which only 


distracts their attention Life itself must therefore be the starting 
point and the training of these children must be a training in life. 

What Results can be expected? 

When we offer biblical instruction to mentally handicapped chil- 
dren, we must be prepared for results which in comparison with 
the effort expended appear meagre. It calls for patience and 
unselfishness. It means accepting the saying: “One sows, another 
reaps”. It means responding to the summons: “Prepare ye the 
way. . .” Immediate results are not to be expected. We live with 
these children a moment which could have repercussions for 
their whole life, and beyond. Sometimes, one child’s testimony 
enables us to discover that something has happened inside him, 
usually something which cannot be measured. This in itself is a 
tremendous encouragement. The catechist asks no more, knowing 
that Jesus has “spoken” in this way at that time. 

How can Parents help? 

Some parents, indeed, though not openly opposed to the idea, 
take no trouble to see that their handicapped children receive 
religious instruction. The last thing some of them think of is to 
present them to the local clergy. Others, by contrast, are very 
much aware of the importance of their role. They try to follow 
up the weekly instruction in the home and within the family and 
to keep in touch with the instructors. In fact these children need 
consistency in their lives much more than other children do. 
It is important not to be put off by their behaviour but always 
to remember that their means of expression and vocabulary are 
limited, their motor responses defective and that their com- 
munication with others takes place at a symbolic level which 
we are not always able to decipher. None the less they have their 
inward spiritual being and the parents in particular need to 
realize this and to let this knowledge inform all they do. 


E. Marthe 

The Gospel of the Handicapped 

“You all know the parable of the lost sheep”, I was saying to a 
small group of churchmen meeting together for a briefing session 


on the problems of pastoral care and religious instruction of the 
mentally handicapped. I was responding to the interruption of 
one member of the group who had just said: “While I appreciate 
your personal commitment on behalf of these children, they are 
nevertheless only a small minority. Surely it is a luxury to spend 
so much time and effort on so few? So many other services demand 
our attention among the multitudes in our parishes. ... In any 
case the results seem so meagre.” My response to this was the 

If one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them , does 
he not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after 
the missing one until he has found it ? How delighted he is then! 
He lifts it on his shoulders , and home he goes to call his friends 
and neighbours together. “ Rejoice with me!” (Luke 15 : 4-6). 

Our inclination is to occupy ourselves with the ninety-nine others 
who are not handicapped. We are all caught up in the mood 
of our age, the attitude of the efficient society. Even in the Church 
and among pastors, we speak about “what pays”, about “wasting 
time” and about “luxury”, whereas the Gospel itself begins with 
something as “non-profitable” as a little lost child, ignored in a 
stable, a shelter for sheep and their shepherds, and ends, this same 
Gospel, with the failure and shame of the death on the cross, from 
which all success seems excluded. The Gospel on the lips of Jesus 
himself is good news announced to the handicapped (Matt. 11:5- 
6). We need to keep the Christ himself, the Good Shepherd, in 
view. He leaves the ninety-nine non-handicapped to go in search 
of the single handicapped sheep. What a prodigal disregard of 
success on his part! 

Precisely at this point the sacrament of Christ begins: namely, 
in being present, available for the other person, the handicapped, 
the person who needs him; and once Christ has found him, he 
puts him on his shoulders rejoicing, helps him in a practical way 
and finally returns home with him, i.e. to the community of the 
non-handicapped, putting him right in the midst of society and 
not at the edge of it where all the minorities have always been 
assigned an enfeebling place right down to our own day. “Rejoice 
with me, all you friends and neighbours, for I have found the 
handicapped whom you pushed outside.” The handicapped are 
the people of the Gospels. 

When Christ speaks of infants, we at once conjure up the picture 
of a healthy child from our own social background, failing to 
notice that for our Lord himself infancy is always primarily a sign, 

• E. Marthe is a catholic priest working in Kamehof, Thal/Reinach, Switzer- 


a symbol. The infant is this rejected, ignored and despised human 
being (as the slaughter of the innocents ordered by Herod shows), 
this poor person, lacking strength and force, stripped of pride 
and radically handicapped, dependent on others, small and 
utterly at the mercy of the one who can help him. Is this not in 
reality the handicapped person? The futile debates and the quest 
for social advancement today mostly revolve around the question: 
Who is the greatest? Who is the most successful? The reply of 
Christ is: If anyone wants to be first , in the evangelical sense, let 
him become the last , small, poor, handicapped, conscious of his 
handicap. For in God’s sight we are all of us terribly handicapped. 
Between human handicaps there is ultimately only a difference of 
degree not of quality. When evangelical man, the Christian, 
realizes that he is handicapped, he is released from his burden 
and becomes a servant, an effective helper, and therefore a sacra- 
ment. A popular concept today is that of the “sacrament of the 

Consider the eloquent acts of Christ: 

He takes a child. He sets the child in the midst of the apostles. 
Having taken the child in his arms, he declares: “Anyone who 
receives a handicapped person, receives me”. 

He takes a child: the handicapped person is taken in hand. He 
places the child in the midst of them: the handicapped is set right 
in the midst of the community, not relegated to the margins. 

He takes the handicapped in his arms: it is not enough to accept 
the other, I must take him to my heart, making him part of 
myself and my life, sharing the same common life in true brotherly 
love. He is completely one of us and completely himself. Why 
should we want to narrow the Gospel when Christ sees so profound- 
ly into our handicap and commits himself so fully in respect of it? 

In his own person and being and in all his own acts, Christ dis- 
closes this great mystery of humanity’s handicap. He himself 
voluntarily accepts being the handicapped God inseparably 
attached to our handicap, becoming dependent on a father and 
mother, on a community, a society and a nation. He himself 
indulges in the luxury of coming above all on behalf of the handi- 
capped. He himself attacks those who are unwilling to admit to 
their own handicaps and for that very reason are handicapped 
more than ever. Having eyes, you see not! Having ears, you hear 
not! He himself, nailed to the cross, rejected by all, expelled from 
the community, dies as the Handicapped One par excellence, 
having taken upon himself our handicap. And people ridiculed 
him for his supreme weakness: “He saved others, but he cannot 


save himself!” The Christ of God is a handicapped person! And 
then, at that supreme moment, God makes him the sacrament, 
the saviour and helper for all human handicaps and every single 
handicapped person in particular. Here is his pastoral strategy, 
here is his Gospel! 

It is not we who decide the objectives of catechetical instruction 
and pastoral care for mentally handicapped children, but Christ 
and his Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the sacrament, the 
highest sign for the real help and grace of God which will also 
become real in the community of the Church. We are all involved. 
Where we take part in the prayer and communal life of the Church, 
where the handicapped are amongst us and where we live alongside 
them in the fellowship of love as human beings who are all “handi- 
capped”, then are we not very close to the secret of eucharistic 

The Meaning of the Sacraments 

I have known many a mother with a seriously handicapped child 
who wanted to bring that child to the sacrament of eucharistic 
communion with Christ but met with fierce opposition from 
priests who asserted that the child was completely devoid of 
understanding and could achieve salvation without “first com- 
munion”. How painful an experience for these mothers. They 
have to make do with fine ecclesiastical words spoken with a 
tinge of pity. 

Perhaps this conflict may open doors for us. Is not the reception 
of the sacrament being left to the sole discretion and decision of 
the seriously handicapped person or does it not have a funda- 
mentally social dimension? Should not the request of the parents, 
which grows from a genuine desire for their children to belong to 
Christ, make access to the sacrament possible? The sacraments as 
symbolic rites of the Church perpetuate the saving acts of Christ. 
Thanks to this sacramental order, the historic Christ entered into 
human society, the society of ordinary people, of the poor and the 
handicapped, became the Christ of all, and ever since has always 
been and will always be the Christ of the weakest and most handi- 
capped people in the world. The encounter between God and 
human beings is always at once individual and social. At a time 
when society is once more considered to be so important, parents 
of mentally handicapped children feel very deeply that the refusal 
to admit these handicapped children to the sacrament is tantamount 
to expelling them from the living community of love and prayer. 
They are henceforth strangers who are not able to live the common 


life in Christ in this community. In this case, we should be glad 
that the faith of the parents “on behalf of the other person”, on 
behalf of their handicapped child, is expressed and can then open 
the way for encounter with Christ. If this stepping in on behalf 
of the other person is accepted as possible for the sacraments of 
baptism then why could it not also be valid for the other sacra- 
ments? Since the handicapped child has been admitted to baptism 
without any problems, and this sacrament is the gateway into the 
Christian community, why should access be refused to those other 
high moments of solidarity with Christ? 

Is the handicapped person incapable in his own way of being an 
apostle and enlisting in the struggle? Why should he, too, not 
affirm his faith, over against “his world”, “his community”, 
according to his capacities, and like everyone else, practise there 
the presence of the Holy Spirit? Living in the Church but also in 
“his church”. This means for me the sacrament of confirmation. 

I think of Pierre, a mongol lad of fourteen years. He has a very 
limited vocabulary (thirty to forty words). He was about to be 
confirmed along with his companions. A fortnight after the 
ceremony and the religious experience of this moment, we were 
holding an instruction period in which each child was asked to 
make a drawing of the festival they had experienced together. 
After a short while, I sat down deside Pierre. How had he expressed 
himself? It was a scribble rather than a drawing. Pierre was still 
holding the crayon, in his fist rather than his fingers, and was 
scribbling again. The result was to prove a remarkable message, 
a “gospel”, a living relationship between him and God and between 
himself and the other children. In addition he in turn became a 
messenger of the Gospel of God (see fig. 1). 

Fig. 1 

Our conversation on this first “drawing” went as follows: 

Question: “What is this up here?” (pointing to the larger scribble 
in the top centre of the paper) 



“Holy Spirit! Holy Spirit! Holy Spirit!” (He repeated 
this several times, his face beaming) 

Question: “And this down here, what’s that?” (pointing to one of 
the four scribbles below) 

Pierre: “Pierre! Pierre!” (proudly pointing to himself) 

Question: “So this is the Holy Spirit here, and this is Pierre here?” 

Pierre: (taking the crayon in his fist and scribbing connecting 

lines from the top squiggle to the one below representing 
himself) “Spirit loves Pierre... Pierre loves Holy 
Spirit!” (he [repeated this many times). He continued 
in the same way for his class companions: Antoinette, 
Gilbert, Marie, . . . 

I was interested that he had included Antoinette next to himself, 
though he did not get on at all well with her and quarrels were 
not infrequent. I pointed to his “Pierre” squiggle and then to his 
“Antoinette” squiggle. He looked at me and smiled knowingly, 
then took the crayon again and scribbled lines in both directions 
from Pierre to Antoinette and from Antoinette to Pierre, chanting 
as he did: “Pierre loves Antoinette! Pierre loves Antoinette!” 
He did the same for the others (see fig. 2). 

Fig. 2 

All that confronted us was a sheet of poor quality paper and 
some large scribbles — but how much it expressed! Poverty of 
symbols, poverty of words, yet Pierre had said everything and 
in the last analysis had understood everything. At the moment 
when he was caught up in the spirit of the game and was chanting 
his words at the top of his voice, his classmates stopped drawing 
and listened attentively to his message. So he had become a 
messenger of the Gospel, an apostle of the faith. He had surely 
grasped the essentials: love to God, love to the neighbour. 


The eucharist is the sacrament of unity in which the communion 
of the whole Church around the one Christ is a reality. The more 
we are drawn together, the more we gather together. Our experi- 
ence with the mentally handicapped is a constant proof of this. 
It is in this sacrament that the differences which could separate 
the handicapped from the non-handicapped are obliterated. It is 
also here that parents experience unity with the one Christ in the 
person of the mentally handicapped, who makes them aware of 
a new dimension of eucharistic sharing. He who shared our sins, 
our needs and our sorrows, teaches us again and again to share 
the handicap. This sacrament of the eucharist is a supremely 
social sacrament. To refuse handicapped persons admission to 
this sacrament is to refuse to integrate them truly into our Chris- 
tian community. It is this sacrament in particular which shows 
us by experience how much more our mentally handicapped 
young people may subsequently learn about living with Jesus 
and with the community (the eucharistic meal of the Mass). 
Just as our specialized instruction helps the mentally handicapped 
to grow in their knowledge of Jesus, so too Christ’s sacrament 
leads them to live life more with Jesus. This sacrament is also 
his access to the common liturgical celebration, the public religious 
offices, the Mass, the eucharistic supper, the ceremonies of the 

It is extremely important to establish and constantly vary a narrow 
relation between the events of a service and the everyday life of 
the handicapped persons. 

It is also important that the mentally handicapped should have 
an opportunity of bringing with them into the liturgical ceremony 
in a very concrete way their daily life and occupations. The 
worship ceremonies and the eucharistic meal should match the 
children’s needs, introducing them to the liturgical language in a 
form suited to their mentality, adapted to their needs and helping 
them to be active themselves so as to feel personally “involved”. 
For this reason, we encourage services and ceremonies of a special 
kind, adapted to the mentally handicapped, though always taking 
great care to direct the child’s action and life towards “others”. 
The work of adaptation and specialization must not isolate the 
mentally handicapped and set them apart from the common 
liturgy of the whole parish. Let us remind our children that God 
the Father takes us all as his friends and therefore loves to see 
us all gathered together to say “Yes” to him. It is a joyful thing 
to be together with all those whom Jesus loves. 

Symbolism, liturgical colours, eloquent pictures and statues, 
sacred vessels, liturgical gestures, music and musical instruments, 
mime, architectural space and religious atmosphere, light and 


shade, candles, religious plays, listening to God’s Word, the use 
of the voice and personal expression in words spoken and sung . . . 
all these things are elements which help the mentally handicapped 
children to reach an active sacredness which leads them by osmosis 
to feel near to God and secure in his presence, to be open to a 
very real “super-reality”, and this in the midst of and together 
with the community. 

But we must face the fact that the integration of the mentally 
handicapped with the local congregation constantly comes up 
against difficulties which stem from the established customs which 
are for the most part preserved in the Church. It happens, for 
example, that parents of easily excitable children prefer to avoid 
worship services. They are afraid that the children may be a 
disturbance because of their speech and singing which do not 
conform to the usual liturgical aesthetics. But when these parents 
do pluck up the courage to bring their children to church, they 
are often subjected to severe criticism from “right thinking Chris- 
tians”: “People shouldn’t bring such children to church. . .” The 
people who are well, prefer not to be disturbed by the handicapped. 
They would like to keep out of their way in order not to be 
reminded that they, too, could be exactly like that: i.e. handicapped. 
Many able-bodied people would be certainly happy to create a 
special place for the handicapped. 

There is evidently a tremendous amount of work of education 
and conscientization to be achieved. In many places contact is 
still lacking between the two communities within the one com- 

Yet the very richness of the sacrament of the eucharist and the 
commitment implicit in it means that all should share and bear 
together the handicap which is common to us all! Instruction on 
the sacraments should therefore take into account a twofold 
relationship: the child’s relationship to God and the child’s relation- 
ships with the others (the community). 

After we have said all this, it should be clear that criteria for 
admission and access to the sacraments must not be based on 
a rationalist procedure at all, or determined by intellectual data 
and capacities. Access to the sacraments must not be viewed 
simply from the standpoint of pure reception, for it is above all 
a matter of sharing in the life of Christ and sharing in the life 
of others who are united with Christ. 

It is important that the sacraments — especially the eucharist and 
penance — be understood from the standpoint of personal meeting 
with someone. This someone whom we meet wants to help us 
and communicate his life to us. 


Seen in this light, the mentally handicapped person is quite capable 
of achieving a certain approach and loving comprehension since 
the aim of all our catechetical work is to help the child to share 
this encounter and to bring himself as much as possible into this 
“life with Christ”. Even if we fear that some of the children will 
be able to participate only to a very small degree, we should 
frankly face these limits in the faith that what is lacking will be 
supplied by Christ in his grace. 

Subsequently, experience shows this, contrary to all expectation, 
we find capacities being demonstrated or awakened which we 
never suspected them to have. (Remember Pierre and his scrib- 

Thus, refusing to be obsessed by some indispensable condition or 
other for receiving the sacraments, we shall tread courageously 
the true spiritual path of the Old Testament as of the New, where 
we find God in his encounters with handicapped human beings 
always calling for participation so that these people may learn to 
live more in his presence each day. 

Handicapped Life as a Reality 

The religious instruction of the mentally handicapped tries to help 
the handicapped person to find meaning in life and to live it. 
It is based on the reality of the Christian faith which, in turn, is 
based on “the Word of God”. The hope is that earthly realities 
of daily life may be drawn into the experience of faith. From this 
standpoint certain perspectives emerge, which can be described 
as follows: 

• The community dimension and the incorporation of the mentally 
handicapped into a parish community and a Christian family 
must never be neglected. On the contrary, in any intelligent 
catechetical instruction, continued progress in the religious life 
will only be achieved within the indispensable community life 
based on the same faith. This community of faith is itself instruc- 
tion in a living and life-giving form. It will be, so to speak, an 
unspoken message, an unwritten gospel, declaring the love of 
God and of mankind. 

The love of God will be glimpsed by the mentally handicapped 
more through the love of parents for their children: more through 
the love shown by educators and teachers and all those who 
assist the mentally handicapped to find the way to God, than 
through actual instruction. 


• Religious instruction will also be centred on joy. Here is one 
of the great capacities of mentally handicapped persons. Here 
they seem to be less handicapped than people who are “whole”. 
Joy in nature, joy in creation, joy in people, joy in things, joy 
in receiving and giving, infectious joy, religious joy, joy in hearing 
God and his Word, joy in prayer: a joy fitting to the Gospel 
“message of great joy”. It is this joy which begins with our Lord’s 
nativity; a message of joy for the “little ones” and the handi- 
capped; it is this message of joy which permeates the Gospel story 
and reaches its denouement, not in a hopeless tragedy, but, 
through the cross, in the joy of Easter when everything is reborn 
in eternal joy. When I am asked if we can look for positive results 
among our children, my preferred response is that I am content 
with the results of the Gospel, for this Gospel unfolds in joy and 
through joy, and our children have this joy, indeed have it in a 
pre-eminent degree. Theirs is the joy of the children of God! 
You only have to watch how they express their joys: their joy 
in prayer, their joy in worship, their delight in Christian festivals, 
their delight in taking part in services and hearing the Word of 
God, and so on. 

• “Being with us” and “doing things with us” are extremely 
important. In some way they consolidate the spoken word: singing 
“with us”, praying “with us”, celebrating “with us”, listening 
“with us”, looking and marvelling “with us”. The handicapped 
persons must have full freedom to express themselves in Christian 
action, through our helping them to make the religious message 
concrete in their daily actions. The guiding role here is played 
by the testimony of the “strong”, i.e. by the educator, by parents, 
teachers. The religious path is only discovered by the child — by 
the mentally handicapped, for a very long time, and in some 
cases all their life long — only through the “strong”, i.e. when 
we ourselves who are the “strong” become the “way”. We can 
in fact only lead them along a way we ourselves are travelling 
in faith. 

This may help to explain what Jesus meant when he said: “I am 
the way”. Christ understood so perfectly our human handicaps. 

• Part of this process of “living with us” takes the form of 
acquiring good habits. But the inculcation of good religious 
habits is not directed to moral training, but to providing mentally 
handicapped children with a real sense of security. It is then that 
they will discover in God, in Christ, in the family, in the com- 
munity, helpers who want to help them live their personal Christian 
lives. All unhealthy moralism must be avoided, for any religious 
instruction which is onesidedly moralistic will only lead to a false 


security, with the mentally handicapped imprisoned in a pattern 
of good moral habits dictated and imposed from outside, uncon- 
nected with Christian witness or love. 

The object of passing on the Gospel to the mentally handicapped 
is not to help ourselves, not to have them more under our control 
by making it easier to direct them, but rather to help them live 
more fully the life in Christ and to participate more fully in the 
expression of faith within the community of faith. If we imprison 
them in a strait-jacket of moral discipline, this will only show that 
we do not take seriously, or believe in, their capacity to live personal 
Christian lives. 

• Mentally handicapped children have a language all their own, 
which enables them to express themselves, to sense and even 
comprehend divine truths and realities by actual experience, 
based on the understanding of the heart, impregnated by emotional 
values and all those profound movements of genuine and spon- 
taneous feelings, and what has been called an “intuitive total 
comprehension”. In the Gospel is to be found this same intuitive 
and living recognition, when Christ calls not for a rational com- 
prehension of his words and deeds but rather a total attitude of 
the whole person, and it is then that we witness the wonderful 
scenes when Christ tells someone: “Thy faith has saved thee!” 

As I have already said, the mentally handicapped manifest pro- 
found joy and usually prove cooperative, wanting to work “with 
us”. Such activity pleases them and makes them happy. This 
is not the fruit of reflective understanding but rather a spontaneous 
self-giving. This is the genuine spirit of infancy and the spirit of 
the Gospel! And what else does the Gospel call for if not for 
our cooperation in salvation — that we should work with Christ, 
imitate him, live his evangelical life in joy? 

• The mentally handicapped child displays a certain absence of 
control, a certain spontaneity in bodily movement, due to psycho- 
motor faculties. Even if lacking in aesthetic expression, disorderly 
in their movements, unbalanced psychologically, handicapped 
persons love to express themselves through their bodies and are 
able to do so. Among our own children I insist that religious 
truth should pass via the body, via their humanity, their flesh, 
but flesh irradiated by the spirit. This unspoken but infinitely 
expressive language in action — dance, play, rhythm and all 
bodily language — allows the mentally handicapped to express 
themselves. Religion itself is expression, utterance, speech: God 
expresses himself in his speech. This speech, word, became man, 
was made flesh, in order that the word-spirit should be expressed 
and find living expression in the human spirit. Such expression is 
biblical and evangelical. 


• That intuitive and global knowledge must be experienced as a 
vital part of a living whole, this is something well understood by 
the handicapped person. Specialized religious instruction should 
bear this in mind. Every experience based on nature and instinctive 
life is already a parable, offering a symbolic resemblance of super- 
natural reality. The whole created world is simply one gigantic 
parable of the uncreated world and of supernatural existence. 
This symbolic thinking characteristic of humanity is echoed in 
the pictorial intelligence of the mentally handicapped. As cate- 
chists, our work is to open up this intelligence and to live these 
parabolic and symbolic realities. This is religious language. 

• Drawing, a graphic art and an eloquent form of writing, one 
which is made to measure for the mentally handicapped child, 
makes it possible for him to express himself by leaving his imprint. 
It is his personal handwriting and even if the most he can manage 
is simply scribbles, he leaves his imprint in the last analysis in 
meaningful lines, which prove to be a means of expression in 
which the child can say what he wants to say and above all what 
he cannot express in spoken words. 

• To listen to melodious sounds, to keep on listening and to 
respond with one’s own sounds as one listens, to feel as it were 
bathed in music and dance, body and soul — this is a capacity 
which is far from absent in mentally handicapped children. It 
is this capacity which prompts them to listen to God speaking. 
Speak Lord, for your child is listening. Some have dared to claim 
that no catechetical instruction for mentally handicapped children 
can possibly lead them to such listening to God. I reject this. If 
the mentally handicapped child can listen to others and we are 
convinced that he hears us, then he can also be receptive enough 
to listen to God the Father whose child he is. It matters little 
how impeded the child’s listening may seem, it still is listening. 
Religion, especially in the Judaeo-Christian faith, means “listening 
to God”, listening to the God who speaks. It also means a God 
who “sings in the heart”, who plucks our spiritual strings and 
makes them vibrate, constraining us even to dance before the 
Ark, expressing ourselves musically and rhythmically with our 
very bodies. The mentally handicapped are able to do all this and 
their natural spontaneity even predisposes them to do so. 

On the other hand, we are aware of limits: lack of concentration, 
tendency to weary of attending and listening, limited scope of 
perception and understanding, a mind which leaps from one 
subject to another, superficiality of comprehension, affective and 
emotional factors interfering with the intellect, limited speech 
and vocabularly, poverty of verbal expression and sometimes a 


complete absence of language, incoherence of words and excessive 
outlay in gabbling words repeatedly without any connecting link, 
stereotyped verbal expressions used as answers to everything, 
inability to retell a story after hearing it, incapacity to deal in 
abstractions and restriction to knowledge of concrete things 
which can be touched, an often disordered imagination, lack of 
logical thought, incapacity to relate concepts to each other and 
to give them real meaning; an underdeveloped social sense of 
normal relationships, lack of a sense of reality, lack of adaptation 
to everyday reality; defective moral sense and a personal responsi- 
bility diminished by an inability to judge even deliberate acts; 
emotionalism, frequently of a clinging kind, abnormal degree of 
dependence, in some cases apathetic, in others aggressive. 

All these things set limits to religious teaching and education 
and make it difficult. But however restrictive these handicaps 
may seem, they are all points of contact which compel us to begin 
where the children really are, knowing that we are committed to 
helping them to advance, to ascend, towards that “plus” which 
the Gospel with its “effective means of salvation” calls the resur- 

Education — especially religious education — is a reaching out 
towards this “plus”, a work which is accomplished in “holiness”, 
i.e. in a life in God and with God. And it appears to me that it 
is precisely among the mentally handicapped that the resurrection 
is given its greatest exposure and manifests all its mystery. For in 
his son Jesus, God himself was made “tortured flesh”, so as to 
lead all handicapped human flesh towards the “plus” of the new 
life in God. Hence it has been possible to call the catechetical 
instruction of the mentally handicapped the catechesis of the 
resurrection. I believe that in the end it is also our own catechesis, 
designed for every human being who in his human poverty feels 
“handicapped” in the presence of the God who takes all handicaps 
upon himself. 



My name is Kerry; I am twenty-one years old. I was 
born with cerebral palsy, and cannot talk, or walk, 
or care for any of my own needs. I can hardly ever 
be alone. 

Sometimes I get very angry, and wonder why God 
let this happen to me. Life is very, very difficult, and 
my trouble makes life hard for those around me, too. 
I have often prayed that God would heal me, like he 
healed in Jesus’ time and still does. Or else I have 
prayed that he would let me die and be with Jesus. 

But since I live on, and am not healed, I can only 
believe God has some purpose in my existence. 

There are things which give me joy and hope, too. 
I am thankful that I can see and hear beautiful things 
and taste and digest food. My family and friends are 
also a joy to me, especially the love and help my 
brothers and sister, and father and mother give me. 
Caring for me is almost a full-time job for my dear 
mother, but she never complains. She just loves me 
and tries to make me comfortable. 

The other thing that helps me is knowing about 
Jesus. I believe he knows what it is to suffer without 
expectation of release, that he knows about me and 
cares that I am the way I am, and that sometime I 
will be with him and free from my poor body. So he 
gives some meaning to my hard life now, and some 
hope for the future, when every tear will be wiped 



Hildegard Beyer 

The motivation for my work with physically handicapped stems 
from an acquaintance made about 20 years back with a young 
woman who was severely physically handicapped. This first en- 
counter with a handicapped person greatly marked my life. She 
had to spend some time in an orthopaedic clinic and I had been 
asked to fetch her music sheets to her. Shortly before this, she had 
sat her final exams as a music teacher and wished to give a musical 
evening for her fellow patients. We soon got talking: about the 
Oberlinhaus, a rehabilitation centre for physically handicapped 
and deaf and blind, of which this clinic was a part; about my 
husband’s work there, which he had begun only a few months 
earlier; about our family and our good fortune to have healthy 
children. Only at the end did she speak of herself. “I am lame 
and must use a wheelchair; only in a room can I move a little 
independently with the aid of crutches; my pupils must always 
carry me into the classroom. But” she added, “it is not so bad, 
one must simply not consider oneself so important.” 

This sentence described her whole life. Important for her were the 
joys and worries of her students, friends and acquaintances with 
whom she was always ready to talk. And she had the ability to be 
advisor and spiritual guide. Only those very close to her knew of 
her own problems: the constant pain, even some disappointment 
and inner agony. Two years ago she died of cancer, but even in 

• When Hildegard Beyer was a child she got to know persons with handicaps 
in Bethel/Bielefeld, the “City of Mercy”, founded by Bodelschwingh. Married 
to the Director of a church-sponsored rehabilitation-institution in Babelsberg/ 
GDR, she has acquired a deep understanding of the problems and hopes of 
handicapped persons. As a social worker hired by the Protestant Church in 
Berlin-Brandenburg she deals with the integration of disabled adolescents and 
families with handicapped members in the life of Christian communities. 


those last months before her death when the pains became almost 
unbearable, she never let those others out of her sight, her fellow 
patients, her friends. She was happy, always good humoured, 
bubbling with the joy of living, full of good spirits, while at the 
same time reflective and given to meditation. 

So she was loved by all who knew her and, although she was not 
conscious of it, she herself had a decisive influence on many lives. 

Handicapped Children 

In the course of my training, I spent some time in a residential 
school for physically handicapped children. At weekends the 
children, except a few, were collected by their parents and taken 
home — this always made Mondays somewhat difficult. One par- 
ticular Monday a seven-year-old girl, a spastic, asked me to help 
her dress. But although it pained me so much to watch how that 
child had to struggle, I could give her only minimum assistance. 
She had been spoiled by her parents and had to learn to be self- 
reliant. Finally, although a little late, she sat ready with the others 
at breakfast table. All the tears were forgotten in the sheer joy of 
having accomplished something. Today, she is largely independent 
of any assistance and is making rapid progress in her development. 
That Monday morning also taught me something new: pampering 
love is sometimes more harmful than exacting sternness. 

Behind the bare facts of these children’s case-sheets lie serious 

Martin and Susanne — the first two of six children of a minister’s 
family — both are mentally handicapped and in addition have 
signs of lameness in arms and legs. 

Ingo — his parents are not interested in him and he is in constant 
care for fractures. He suffers from the dreadful glass bone illness — 
osteogenesis imperfecta — where a slight knock or pressure is 
enough for the bones to break and splinter like glass. This results 
in serious deformities in the pelvic and breast regions and in the 
arms and legs. 

Regina — her parents are divorced and all contact with the child 
has been severed. She is paraplegic. She is nevertheless a happy 
child who has learned to live with her handicap. Good medical 
care and the love of her nurses have made her independence 
possible and given her a healthy self-assurance. 

Here in the home, the children live unperturbed. With the aid of 
wheelchairs and a variety of orthopaedic apparatus they play and 


move around to the best of their ability. In the midst of others like 
them, they have little feeling of handicap or “otherness”. But in 
later years how will they be received and integrated into other 
groups and in the parish? 

Holiday Camps 

I looked forward with joy and expectancy to the first recreation 
camp after my training; I was also rather nervous. The participants 
were parents and their handicapped children — all adults between 
the ages of 19 and 40 who were to spend 12 days together. 

On arrival there were shouts of “hello” from those who already 
knew one another, and a reserved “good morning” from the first- 
timers. In no time, each had chosen the wheelchair which best 
suited him or her and while parents saw to the arrangement of 
rooms, sons and daughters were already in lively conversation. 
On the first evening of such gatherings, each of the participants 
speak about themselves and their lives. Often in these reports 
something is expressed of the idea which was to be the theme of 
our one and a half weeks together: In tension between rejection 
and acceptance. 

But we, who were healthy and did not have handicapped children, 
how were we qualified to talk about this problem? I found myself 
asking this question throughout the evening and doubting all that 
we had planned in our preparations for the camp. 

Subsequently, the following morning’s group session turned out 
completely different from planned. Instead of a report, there was 
exchange, discussion and common orientation on the Word of 
God. No one was afraid to openly admit his dependence but at 
the same time we helped each other mentally to find ways of 
accepting handicap and burden. 

The afternoon was given to a long walk and swimming, and I 
pushed a young girl in her wheelchair. Only a few years previously 
she had been healthy and athletic. Now she must constantly lie 
flat; barely able to move a muscle independently. Her sight is 
gradually deteriorating; she often has great difficulty swallowing 
her food and her speech becomes more and more indistinct. But 
her mind is alert and for her mother, who has a weak heart but 
who still cares for her daughter with loving devotion, this holiday 
is a source of strength and courage. We tell each other about our 
lives, talk about problems which interest us both and in this way 
come to know and understand each other. 

In the evening the whole group sits together. There is singing, 
games, handwork, and also the planning of the programme for the 


week ahead: discussion of books, music and slides for meditation, 
a collage related to our theme, group dynamics games and a fancy 
dress party. 

By the end of this recreation period, thanks to the practical help 
of the youth deacon who directed the course, many of these young 
handicapped persons had come to realize that self-reliance demands 
much effort on their own part. Many parents were astonished to 
see how their children, with just a little more patience but without 
help from others, were able to master daily routine. On top of 
this, friendships grew among the participants and it was hoped 
that these, too, would create fresh courage and strength for every- 
day life. 

I have since taken part in many of these camps. Each one presents 
new problems and questions. Such was the case of the last one, in 
which only older handicapped persons participated, some of them 
accompanied by husbands or wives who were either not or only 
slightly handicapped. Questions are asked at the end of these 
camps. Have the expectations of the participants been met? How 
did they treat the theme “Between despair and hope”? I will never 
forget how moved I was on the morning when each of them talked 
about the most frightening experience of his or her life: it was not 
the fear of illness, handicap or death which marked the experience 
of the individual in all sorts of situations, but rather the fear of 
being alone, isolated. We were all deeply struck by this and it 
became very clear to us how and where our help must be given. 

Have we succeeded in pointing the way which alone leads out of 
isolation: the way through Christ to become brothers and sisters? 

On the following day, we tried to describe fear and hope, using 
coloured foil on panes of glass cut in the format of slides. In the 
evening we projected these slides and listened to taped music on 
the same theme which one of the blind participants had composed 
from various extracts. We were particularly happy to see that no 
one missed the hope which penetrated the dark colours as a bright 
spot or gleaming beam of light. 

Many years have passed now since my training period. Office 
work, visitations, meetings, camps have all become a matter of 
course. But in this sort of work, each day is in some way specially 
stamped by the people we meet: certainly they are dependent on 
our help but at the same time they stand beside us as equals, 
critically commenting on what we are doing, and questioning the 
genuineness of our actions. Some of the many-faceted demands 
faced in this profession may be described in the following examples: 



A former, very capable operating theatre sister suddenly began to 
suffer from pains in the spine which gradually became so severe 
that she could no longer work. Long stays in an orthopaedic 
clinic, operations followed by long periods of treatment brought 
no real improvement. Finally she was declared invalid and her 
dismissal from the clinic became imminent. Now the authorities 
must help to find her a home suitable for a handicapped person 
and it must be made clear that she can no longer stay in her 
present home which is on the first floor, and has stove heating 
with the coal cellar in the yard. 

Visits to Old People’s Homes 

The woman I am to visit is 76 years of age. She has a nice room 
in the old people’s home. But the burden of years, the abandon- 
ment by children who no longer care to listen to their mother’s 
problems or try to understand her disability, and the worries of 
the past have made her discouraged and dejected. To lend an 
understanding ear, to recount my own experiences, to bring her 
a little joy, a little acceptance of life, these are the aims of my 

Dealing with Health Insurance for Financial Assistance 

This is not always easy, especially when, as in my present case, an 
increase has already been refused. But this 80-year-old man’s 
condition has so badly deteriorated that those responsible simply 
must be made aware of the need for an increase. It is a matter of 
speaking the right word at the right time. 

But God who calls people into his service also enables them to 
speak correctly: he opens doors and builds bridges and that gives 
me confidence, despite the refusals. 

Afternoon Gatherings in the Parish 

For a year now, handicapped persons receive regular invitations 
to these gatherings. The invitation must be written at least three 
weeks in advance to allow time for the organisation of transport. 
At these meetings, the number of participants confined to wheel- 
chairs is steadily increasing. Car owners are needed as well as 
people to help lift and carry the handicapped. So at least for a 
short time these people can be taken out of the monotony of their 
surroundings into a community where, through seeing others and 
hearing their joys and their worries, they may find encouragement 
and perhaps feel that the motto on the invitation “With one 
another — for one another” is not just an empty phrase. 


One severely handicapped woman lives a good hour’s drive away 
but she makes every effort to be present at these meetings. For 
another, who drives an invalid car, not even the border between 
West Berlin and the GDR is an obstacle. After many years of 
living in a home, she has striven for independence in her own 
house and always with good humour and much energy. Whenever 
possible she makes this trip to her relatives in the GDR in order 
to be able to come to our meetings. 

House Visitation 

Such visits can sometimes prove very difficult. One visit, for 
example, is to a woman whose husband suffers from a slowly 
progressive paralysis of the limbs for which there is no clear 
diagnosis. Some weeks ago I was called to him for the first time 
to help transfer him from a general hospital to an orthopaedic 
clinic. Although his treatment is now completed, he cannot return 
home because his wife has broken her hand and apparently is no 
longer able, nor wishes to look after him. So all that remains for 
him as the last shelter of his life is a home. Is there a possibility of 
giving his wife sufficient moral and practical assistance so that she 
would be prepared to continue to care for him? Although he 
suffers badly, he is still mentally alert and eager for life. Could 
she perhaps maintain a home and family atmosphere for him for 
a time? 

Youth Communities 

An invitation to these communities to explain my work with 
handicapped people is a good opportunity. Questions, discussions, 
criticisms will arise. But also doubts. What if the young people 
are not at all receptive to this kind of work? Or simply have no 
inclination to listen? Or what if I do not find the right words and 
speak above their heads? I am most concerned to use the oppor- 
tunity to find additional volunteers to help with the driving service 
or with visits. 

A few months ago a group of students asked me for information 
on this kind of work and I faced the same doubts. Now a small 
group has formed a working circle with physically handicapped 
persons of their own age. They decide on activities, discuss theo- 
logical questions, art and literature, organise meetings with parish 
groups, plan theatre and concert visits and arrange happy evenings 
together with a meal, singing, games and dancing. 

Again my worries were unfounded. I soon realised that these 
young people — lolling on mattresses in the youth centre, dressed 


in smocks and worn jeans, with long hair and the beginnings of 
beards — were, in all their slovenliness, ready to listen and to act. 
So on that evening a fine working community came into existence. 
Already, in prayer together at the close of the evening, a willing- 
ness to help and to be available for the sake of the handicapped 
was clearly expressed. More meaningful than the money collected 
was the spontaneous offer by three of those present to work with 
us whenever they were needed. 

Talking with young Co-Helpers 

Two days later I was at the front door of one of the co-helpers. 
It was a while before the door was opened for the young man is 
badly handicapped and he needed 100 steps where a non-handi- 
capped person would need only 10. Rheumatism of the joints has 
made him almost totally paralysed, but he has maintained an 
amazing amount of independence, both by his own will and 
through all kinds of aids, some of them built by his friends accord- 
ing to his specifications. 

My visit today is to congratulate him on his engagement to a 
young girl. She, too, is confined to a wheelchair. They met during 
one of the camps and had come to recognize that they were not 
objects of pity but fully persons in their own right. They had 
discovered their love for each other and this love had awakened 
unknown strengths which allowed them to help each other and, 
in this way, to become largely independent of outside help. 

Now sitting facing each other — he half-inclined in his electric 
wheelchair of which the seat can easily be turned to a 90° angle 
to move him from a lying to a sitting position and vice-versa, I on 
a low seat so that we are able to face each other — I tell him a bit 
about what has happened over the past few days, both of positive 
and negative events. There are many possibilities of giving aid, 
but there are also situations where one looks on helplessly when 
people doubt completely the value of their lives. One can only 
listen and give one’s time without being able to point a solution. 
That is one of the most difficult times in such a profession and 
I am sometimes thankful to be able to take my leave of a collab- 
orator and friend. 

Take the case of a young girl, an only child, well cared for by her 
family but such a bad spastic that she must lie down most of the 
time. The fear of her parents and grand-parents that anything 
might hit against her is so great that they would never trust her 
to outside helpers and so they make any involvement in youth 
activities impossible for the child. It is difficult to imagine how 


much this young intelligent girl must suffer from isolation. What 
will happen if nothing changes? Will she simply resign herself 
indifferently or will her profound frustration perhaps even bring 
her to end her life? 

Then there is a middle-aged woman who until six years ago was 
in good health, happily married, with three children. She had a 
good job. Then she was stricken by multiple sclerosis which 
advanced rapidly so that soon she needed constant care. Her 
husband divorced her and took the children. She is now looked 
after by her mother. I often ask myself how she bears the pain. 
Every word of comfort we try to give rings false. 

And there is a married couple where the husband is blind and 
severely handicapped and the wife has no handicap. They have 
a healthy child and seemed happily married, but suddenly after 
10 years they now face divorce. Divorce, of course, is not un- 
common in such circumstances but more is at stake in this case. 
For the husband, it means not only losing all he has struggled to 
achieve — his self-reliance, happiness, family, his own home — 
but also returning to the atmosphere of a nursing home. 

It is not our intention to pass judgment, but have we not failed 
here as a Christian community, as neighbours and family? Is it 
not we who carry the blame that this dejected young man has 
already attempted suicide on three occasions? 

These questions cannot be ignored, nor can we find easy solutions 
to them. But our conversations and discussions help both the 
co-workers and myself. We know that the “nevertheless” of faith 
is beyond all refusal and resignation and gives us the courage to 
continue building bridges to people and communities, within 
families, parishes and the oikumene, in which the handicapped, 
regardless of their handicap, find their place as full human beings. 
This recalls a verse from the Youth Community: 

I would like to build bridges solid and fine 
Take hands and go the first step 

I would like to believe and pray , each day I say so to myself 
Lord , give me your spirit to do so. 

Summer 1977 



It is not only lack of knowledge or indifference but 
also well-meant actions which can place us un- 
consciously on a lower level, and, what is worse for 
us, push us out of the community. The following 
experiences will illustrate this: 

I was offered a place in a convalescent home by our 
congregation. Any likely excuse on my part was 
immediately countered by “We have already a nice 
Sister who will travel with you there and take care 
of you.” 

I was very pleased. 

For the stay I required a certificate. “Can’t your 
mother come with you”, asked the lady in the office 

“Why?” I asked. 

“For the signature.” 

“But I can sign myself — with my foot.” 

The woman looked at me in astonishment, and 
rather unwillingly. Her colleague said, “Let her sign. 
It works well. I’ve seen it done before.” 

I was certainly not meant to hear the other’s answer: 
“What, I’m not so daft as to put my pen between 
her toes‘“ 

“Excuse me”, I said, “but I wash my feet just as 
often as others wash their hands.” 

At that she said, “Oh, let it go, it’ll do without a 

I was deeply hurt, for I am happy and grateful that I 
can write with my feet. 

Two weeks later we set off. Another disabled woman 
wanted to get on the train, but she slipped and fell. 
She had apparently not hurt herself, for she tried to 
get up straight away. But, because of her disable- 
ment she looked as if she was beating about with her 
arms. From my window I saw two women jump 
forward. Although they had no solution to offer, 
they spoke continuously and all-knowingly down at 


the women lying on the ground. “She has certainly 
had an epileptic fit”, I heard one of them say. 
Although the disabled lady was fully compos mentis 
(lucid) and continually tried to speak, she was 
simply lifted up by the two women and carried onto 
the train and into our compartment. We were asked 
to squeeze together on one side so that they could 
lay her down on the other seat. Meanwhile, the 
woman had calmed down and said in a friendly 
manner, “I thank you kindly for your help but you 
need not have given yourself so much trouble, if you 
had just listened to me. You would also have spared 
me much pain if you had simply given me your hand. 
I would have stood up quite easily.” 

Question: What kind of help is correct? 

I think one should first lend an ear to the person who 
needs assistance. Then one can help properly. 

I fully understand that it is not easy for a healthy 
person to bear looking at a lame person. But at this 
point I would like to speak directly to Christians. The 
apostle Paul calls the congregation the “body of 
Christ” — here he surely did not mean only the 
able-bodied. We all belong together — is this no 
longer true today? Naturally we do not like it when 
some members of the body are not formed normally 
or do not function normally, but from where does a 
healthy person get the right to grade these members 
lower or to shut them out altogether? Theoretically 
we Christians know all this — we know, too, that 
with Christ quite other criteria are valid. But how is 
it in practice? 

With my companion, I naturally participated in the 
worship services. We sat in the third row from the 
back. Then a friendly woman came up to us and 
whispered to my companion, “Would you be kind 
enough to sit with the little ones in the back row, so 
that no one will be distracted from the sermon?” 


She meant well no doubt — the others should not be 
disturbed in their worship. But once again I was 
pushed away — in God’s house! 

In front of me sat a man. I noticed him because my 
singing evidently disturbed him. I know my singing 
sounds bad. He kept shaking his head and finally 
closed his book angrily and stopped singing. Should 
I rather not join in the singing and keep silent? I 
thought about it for a while. But I like singing so 
much and it helps me feel happy. 

After the service I approached the man and asked, 
“Pardon me, but I think I may have disturbed you 
with my singing?” He replied, “Rather pardon me, 
I think your praise was more pleasing to God than 

Now it was my turn to be surprised — I had expected 
a different reply. 

The following worship was to be a communion 
service. My companion was kindly asked to see that 
I did not take part in it. 

I can see many heads shaking in disbelief — people 
who find this impossible. For them I would like to 
stress again that these experiences are neither 
exaggerated nor invented; nor do they belong to the 
past, but they recur in all sorts of variations in my 
life and in the life of other disabled persons. 

I must admit that to be excluded from the eucharist 
was the hardest blow, because it means so much to 
me. It gives me strength and courage not to despair 
because of my difficult lot. 

Edith Meisinger 

Translated from German 

The original text is found in: 

"Ober die Schwelle. Aufzeichnungen einer 
spastisch Gelahmten, Evangelische Verlagsanstalt 
Berlin, GDR 1974, pp. 74 ff. 

Reproduced with kind permission. 




Stephen Plumlee 

The sensuous richness of Orthodox worship gives it the opportunity 
to minister to handicapped persons, not by providing them with 
specialized forms of worship in separate services so much as by 
incorporating them directly into the liturgical activities of the 
community. The colours, smells, and sounds of Orthodox worship 
are all part of the total personal experience of praising God. It is 
consonant with the firm insistence of the Orthodox theological 
tradition that people are created whole ; that they are not a synthetic 
compilation of separate systems and parts, but persons. Any 
analysis of the person into senses, parts, or elements is only a 
momentary discrimination for particular purposes; and continued 
isolation beyond that moment is destructive to human life, es- 
pecially in its relation to God. 

When Orthodox Christians, able-bodied or disabled, are at worship 
they are surrounded by an ordered host of symbols. The term 
symbol as it is used here means something which “casts together” 
elements which would otherwise be separated from each other. 
A symbol is not voluntary or arbitrary, but flows out of the 
realities it links together. Since the symbol unites different worlds, 
it always is more than one can know it to be or understand it 
consciously. In this sense the word “symbol” is parallel to its 
use by C. G. Jung, as for example, in the following quote from 

Because there are innumerable things beyond the range of human 
understanding , we constantly use symbolic terms to represent 
concepts that we cannot define or fully comprehend . * 1 

• Stephen Plumlee is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America. He is 
especially concerned with hospital chaplaincy work in New York City. 

1 Carl G. Jung, “Approaching the Unconscious”, in Man and his Symbols 
(New York : Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1964), p. 3. 


In the same work Jung also says: 

... a symbol always stands for something more than its obvious 
and immediate meaning. Symbols , moreover , are natural and 
spontaneous products. No genius has ever sat down with a pen 
or a brush in his hand and said: “ Now I am going to invent a 
symbol ”. No one can take a more or less rational thought , 
reached as a logical conclusion or by deliberate intent , and then 
give it “symbolic” form. 2 

These symbols are not presented to Orthodox worshippers; rather 
they, the worshippers, produce them together with the rest of the 
community. They light candles and install them in a candle-rack 
where those lighted by their fellow worshippers also burn. They 
sign their own bodies with the sign of the cross of Christ. They 
prostrate themselves before the sacred icons and kiss them. They, 
or someone in their local community, may have painted the icons; 
even if they have not, the images have been created by someone 
who is immersed in the same life of sacrament and prayer in which 
they are immersed. When the doors of the altar are opened to 
begin the worship, they become part of a pattern of movements, 
gestures, and phrases that are remarkable not so much for their 
ritualized and ceremonialized forms as for the fact that they are 
the product of the experience of an entire society at worship 
through many generations and in many quite different cultures. 
It is, in a word, “catholic” worship, fitted without rationalization 
to the many-sided senses and sensibilities of the people. 

It is a truism to say that a person deprived of one sense or capacity 
finds his others heightened to compensate for the loss. It is just this 
appeal to so many aspects of human nature that makes integration 
into Orthodox worship readily possible for handicapped persons. 
Those who cannot hear are still surrounded by an astonishing 
procession of color and light. They smell the sweetness of the 
incense, the “odor of spiritual fragrance”, and they can know 
themselves rising, as the smoke rises, to meet the majesty of God. 
Blind people cannot see any of this panoply with their physical 
eyes, of course, but they participate in all the physical postures 
and gestures that are so deeply ingrained in Orthodox worship; 
they join in the system of prayer and the hymnology that examines 
the experience of the faithful now from one prospect, now from 
another, utilizing both theological and musical modes. They can 
feel the very living heat of the other candles as they go to light 
their own. 

It is perhaps the mentally retarded among the handicapped who 
find the most to respond to in this spiritual sensuality. If there is 
a group who must rely on its senses for understanding and com- 

2 Ibid., p. 41. 


prehension, surely it is those who have a limited ability to make 
logical and abstract connections between words and ideas. Here 
one is surrounded by the postures of humility, the liveliness that 
is afforded by colour and flame, the embrace and kiss of love that 
occur periodically in the Orthodox cult. 

Pedagogy for the retarded requires the use of such devices as 
methodical repetition, concrete descriptive materials, and a con- 
siderable amount of personal physical contact between the teacher 
and the student. These qualities inhabit Orthodox worship. Time 
after time appear the same litanies and prayers, simple in their 
concepts, but profound in their expression of the experience of 
God and majestic in their approach to him; the same processional 
movements of the faithful and of the offerings of bread and wine, 
which symbolize their very lives, approach the altar, the throne 
of God, again and again. One cannot escape recognizing Jesus 
Christ, “the same, yesterday, today, and forever”; even the person 
who cannot fathom the measured reason of the Fathers of the 
Church or the fundamental concepts of St. Paul can know the 
living closeness and warmth of Christ in the company and through 
the actions of the believers gathered to offer liturgy to him. 

Thus the handicapped are included in the worship of the Orthodox 
Church not by the creation of special forms for them, but through 
their own utilization of and attention to the forms that make up 
the facets of Orthodox worship. By their inclusion in the society 
of the faithful and their appropriation of the elements of its 
worship that are perceptible to them they are part of what the 
Church does at its adoration of God. 

The Bible is, of course, the verbal revelation par excellence of 
God’s grace, and the bibliocentric quality of Orthodox worship 
provides another opportunity for handicapped persons to be 
included in ways that deepen their sense of communion with the 
Lord. Orthodox who attend vespers of Saturday evening and 
matins and Divine Liturgy of Sunday morning (the typical services 
in a parish during a week in which there are no feasts) hear sung 
or chanted twenty-three psalms, either in whole or in part, and 
verses from numerous others that are employed to highlight the 
themes of portions of the services. The psalms that are sung vary 
widely in content, from those which celebrate the glory of God’s 
creation (Ps. 104) to psalms of beseeching (Pss. 141, 129, and 37) 
to psalms of praise (Pss. 102 and 150). One New Testament lesson 
is read at Sunday morning matins (always an account of the 
resurrection from one of the Gospels) and two at the Divine 
Liturgy. Those who attend services on feasts are exposed to even 
more scripture, for on the eves of those days three appropriate 
lessons are read at vespers. 


It is not simply that this exposure to biblical literature provides 
Orthodox worshippers, both the handicapped and the non-handi- 
capped, with a considerable indoctrination in Scripture, but it also 
provides the very foundation on which every other element of 
Orthodox worship is based. Indeed many of the most eloquent 
prayers of the Divine Liturgy are in fact pastiches of passages from 
the Bible. This is especially true of those prayers which center 
around the eucharistic canon. It is safe to say, in fact, that nothing 
is done liturgically in the Orthodox Church without its raison 
d’etre being made clear through Scripture during the service. 

Those who rely on heightened communications to compensate for 
underdeveloped capabilities stand to benefit from so much exposure 
to the Bible. This is especially true for the retarded, for while 
many of the important messages of scripture may not be per- 
ceivable to them, they are remarkably responsive to such concrete 
expressions of the creativity, love, and sustenance of God as occur 
in the psalms and the parables of the Gospels. 

It is not at all unheard of either for blind or deaf persons to 
contribute to the worship of their parishes as lay readers. This is 
not an insignificant contribution since, with the exception of the 
two matins and liturgy Gospel lessons, all the readings from 
scripture are invariably read by lay persons. 

The main point of this type of contribution is not, however, that 
the handicapped can feel themselves to be part of the worship of 
the rest of the people around them. That in itself is a valuable 
consideration, of course, but the most important use it has for 
them is the same as for the rest of the faithful: it enables them to 
realize themselves as part of something that is greater than they 
are. It is not the gratification of the worshippers, of their own 
sense of worth, that lies at the root of their function in Orthodox 
worship. Rather it is their knowledge that they take part in actions 
which are God’s way, through concrete symbolic and scriptural 
tools, to make them belong to that community of cult which is 
the precursor of the Kingdom. 

A third way in which Orthodoxy includes handicapped people in 
its liturgy is through the community of worship that has already 
been alluded to. Orthodox worship is above all the cult of the 
family of faith. By very ancient tradition the Divine Liturgy, the 
service of holy communion, cannot be served unless there is at 
least one other person present besides the priest to constitute a 
community. Furthermore the other services of the Church are 
structured in such a way that it is almost impossible for a priest 
to serve them without the presence of other persons to take 
responsibility for the readings and responses. To be at worship 


is for the Orthodox a time when they are with other people who 
are doing the same thing they are, together with them. This is not 
to imply that every person present performs every one of the acts 
of the liturgy, for in each service there is the office of the priest, the 
office of the reader, and the office of the congregation, with its 
solemn Amen of affirmation. Without each of these offerings 
something of the essential wholeness disappears from the Church’s 

It is this very unity of work and purpose in worship that reveals 
to the faithful the unity of the Trinity, the unity of life together in 
the Kingdom of God, and the unity with each person that Christ 
gives. It is that same unity which makes the handicapped know 
that their limitations, disabilities, and incapacities are surpassed 
in their true uniqueness of being loved and saved for themselves, 
as they are, by Christ, in the community of the saved. The very 
need for this community is itself a witness to the spiritual handicap 
of each person, for before the awesome criteria of God all are 
retarded and incapable, but in Christ all are sealed together in the 
kingdom of healing love. 

There is a restriction on entrance into the priesthood of the 
Orthodox Church that is related to disabilities. It finds its earliest 
expression among the disciplinary canons of the Church; i.e., 
those devised to protect the good order of the life of the Church 
and not pronouncing doctrines in themselves. The specific canons 
involved belong to the list of the Apostolic Canons. Their exact 
origin is unknown, but they are thought to have been compiled 
by the middle of the fourth century, and they were confirmed by 
the Council of Trullo (A.D. 692) as being of canonical authority. 

The legislations in question are Canon 77: 

If anyone be deprived of an eye , or lame of a leg , but in other 
respects be worthy of a bishopric , he may be ordained , for the 
defect of the body does not defile a man , but the pollution of the 
soul. 3 

and Canon 78: 

But if a man be deaf or blind , he may not be made a bishop , not 
indeed as if he were thus defiled , but that the affairs of the Church 
may not be hindered. 

The purpose of these two canons is to protect the liturgical and 
pastoral services of the Church from being improperly or inad- 
equately conducted. Canon 78 suggests that physical disabilities 

3 Although the office of bishop is the one specifically mentioned in these 
canons, the requirements of the disciplinary canons are applied to the ranks 
of priest and deacon too, unless the canon states otherwise. 


which would make it difficult for a man to function liturgically or 
to minister to the pastoral needs of those under his care are to be 
seen as impediments to ordination, and as both canons make 
clear, there is no imputation of his being personally unworthy. 
As Canon 77 says, it is spiritual failure that defiles a man, and not 
physical disabilities. 

The importance of these canonical restrictions may be difficult 
to fathom for those who are not from a liturgically-oriented tra- 
dition. However, an Orthodox priest is foremost a minister of the 
cult; his primary responsibility is to lead the faithful in liturgical 
prayer, and although individual pastoral duties and the develop- 
ment of his own spiritual life are also incumbent upon him, they 
devolve from his role as leader of sacramental worship. Any 
personal disability which interferes with that liturgical function 
makes it impossible for a man to be ordained a priest, for to 
ordain a handicapped man who would, for example, be able only 
to teach or only to counsel would be a dismemberment of the 
priestly vocation. 

The major impediment to the integration of handicapped persons 
into the life of the Orthodox Church is, then, certainly not in 
worship, but in an unfortunate lack of educational materials. It is 
undoubtedly true that mentally retarded persons, for example, 
could understand much more clearly what they are doing when they 
are at worship if their religious education presented studies of the 
liturgical life in modes and at levels appropriate for their limited 
comprehension. Another serious need is for both educational and 
liturgical texts in braille. At the present time the blind can follow 
the words of liturgy aurally, but aside from the services of people 
who can read to them, they have little possibility to enhance their 
understanding of the verbal aspects of worship. Unfortunately, 
such materials have not been developed yet anywhere in the 
Orthodox world. 



I shall still often think of Toby. 

What impressed me most about him was his mental 
attitude, a combination of calmness and serenity. 
Toby had been severely disabled from birth. He was 
now middle-aged. We used to meet two or three 
times a week. How often we heard him say: “So 
what?”. When the local football team was relegated 
he cocked his head to one side, smiled and said: 
“So what?” That I did not find hard to understand. 
But I was amazed when his wheelchair had a flat 
tyre and Toby just cocked his head, smiled and said: 
“So what?”. When something like that happens to 
me, I usually begin to shout. When the doctor told 
him he had only weeks left to live and Toby again 
said “So what?”, even his mother could no longer 
understand him. “Aren’t you carrying this too far, 
son?”, she said. But Toby said simply: “Listen, 
Mum! Is Easter only about eggs or also about me?” 

I thought that an absolutely wonderful remark, 
though it made Toby seem somewhat strange to me. 
But not later on when his mother told me that her 
son, who had died on an Easter Sunday, had very 
seldom talked of his disability. Only once. They 
were having tea together and the boy — well he was 
actually a grown up — knocked a cup over and began 
to cry. A middle-aged man began to cry over a 
broken cup! Sobbing to himself: “I'm just an old 
cripple”. Now when I think of Toby., he no longer 
seems strange to me. That business about Easter 
and the business of the cup — they go together. 
Toby had ideals, very high ideals. But he was human 
enough to know that our ideals cannot always be 

I shall still think of Toby — often. 

Ulrich Bach 


‘ ■ 

Part III: The Present Situation 

For Example — in the GDR 


Heinrich Behr 

The Evangelical Churches and the Handicapped 

Initiatives taken up in state legislation 

On December 1 1976, a new Regulation came into force in the 
GDR aimed at further improving social support for severely and 
partially disabled citizens (GDR Law Gazette, Part I, No. 33, 
p. 41 Iff.). This includes a host of far-reaching innovations in the 
field of rehabilitation aimed at affording assistance both to the 
disabled themselves and to their relatives. An astonishing and 
welcome feature of many of the innovations is that they owe their 
origin to initiatives tested over many years in the diaconal service 
of the Evangelical Churches. This pioneer work is now generalized 
and made obligatory for the state agencies, industry and establish- 

Here are a few examples: 

• Encouragement is given for the organization of seminar courses 
where the parents of handicapped children can be familiarized 
with their special tasks. Parents’ seminars of this kind have 
been held regularly since 1965 within the framework of the 

• Since 1958, Heinrich Behr has been personally engaged in work with handi- 
capped persons as Director of the Marienstift in Arnstadt, Thuringia. He grew 
up in this rehabilitation centre for the physically disabled, his father being its 
director before him. Heinrich Behr is not only a member of the general 
assembly of the “Innere Mission (Home Mission) and Hilfswerk (Welfare 
Agency) of the Evangelical Churches in the GDR”, but also a member of the 
Society for Rehabilitation in the GDR, of the Conference of Directors of the 
(state and church) Rehabilitation Centres, and of the Disabled Children 
Working Group in the Erfurt District Council. He also works as Lecturer on 
organized Christian social service in the Erfurt School for Preachers, and has 
published numerous articles and books on the subject of the handicapped. 


churches’ diaconal services in the form of preparatory courses 
for mothers. A detailed account of experience with these was 
made available some time ago to the Ministry of Health for 
evaluation and development. 

• The number of day centres for handicapped children is to be 
increased. The establishment of such day centres first started 
as part of the voluntary social work done by church con- 

• The ordinance places great importance on the arrangement of 
holiday camps for handicapped children. Since 1962, a large 
church institution has sent all its handicapped children and 
entire staff regularly each year to spend a month by the Baltic. 
This course of treatment and its successes have attracted a 
great deal of attention. 

• The ordinance also prescribes a practice that has long been 
current in church institutions, namely, to take disabled children 
or young people into hospitals or nursing homes for a definite 
period so that parents who would otherwise have to care for 
them can take a holiday. Similarly, the Church has for many 
years arranged holidays in its nursing homes for disabled 
people. As a result of the Home Mission’s comprehensive 
building programme for the whole of the GDR, made possible 
by ecumenical funds, the conditions of life and work in many 
institutions for the disabled have been quite decisively improved, 
and so has the quality of the work done. 

This enumeration should be sufficient. Our intention is not in any 
way to emphasize the social work of Christian voluntary service in 
contrast to that of the state, but rather to indicate the manifold 
possibilities open for Christian service in a socialist state. It is not, 
of course, a question of prestige, but of service to physically 
handicapped human beings. So, for instance, the first workshop 
in the GDR was set up in 1962 and operated by a Christian 
diaconal institution. For legal reasons this workshop was later 
brought under the Health Department of the local district council. 
The Home Mission institution was reimbursed for all the costs 
incurred. But it had created a model which served as a guide for 
many other local councils and on which uniform legislation on 
protected work for the whole GDR could be based. 

Christian service and proclamation 

The enumeration also indicates a few of the important points at 
which the handicapped come into contact with the Church. In the 
past, the church’s organized diaconal service with its institutions 


and agencies (Innere Mission and Hilfswerk) has had the dominant 
role. But the voluntary service done by congregations with its 
growing facilities and activities will one day be of greater and 
more decisive importance for the disabled. Both institutional and 
congregational service, however, not only have very extensive 
external opportunities for social service but also have all that is 
needed for giving help to body and soul. Nor is pastoral care in 
any way looked upon merely as a traditional appendage to social 
commitment; it is seen and promoted as a distinctive, specific 
function of Christian service to others. Everywhere, in the service 
of young or old people, in institutional and parish work, there is 
evidence of an increasing desire for comprehensive assistance for 
living, and therefore for pastoral care. The demand for this comes 
to us in almost identical fashion from church members and from 
people of no particular denomination. Proclamation of the Word 
of God is central here. Particularly close contact between the 
churches and the handicapped is established by such pastoral 
work. The proclamation of the Word of God and the acceptance 
of the good news means that more and more disabled people are 
themselves becoming active in this sphere and are taking over the 
service of bearing witness in ways appropriate to them. We shall 
return to this point later. 

Another astonishing feature of our situation is that since 1945 the 
churches have increasingly come to regard diaconal work as their 
own specific function next to proclamation, and they devote 
personnel and resources to it accordingly. In sermons and church 
publications, stronger emphasis is placed on service, as of course 
the biblical message itself demands. The agencies of fraternal 
service are legally incorporated into the Church in each Land , 
and thus come under that Church’s responsibility and protection. 
Until about five years ago, it was in the field of diaconia that the 
Church was, relatively speaking, most active and the repercussions 
of this are now beginning to be felt. This applies particularly to 
the recruitment of young people to serve on the staff of diaconal 
institutions. Young Christians are increasingly coming forward for 
service in diaconal work, because on quite explicit grounds of 
faith they want to work with handicapped people. Since the 
facilities for appropriate training are available, this can be a 
source of the new workers for whom the church diaconal services 
have been waiting for decades. One young member of staff remarked 
in this connection: “Since I have been working with physically 
disabled children, my life has a meaning again. Work with these 
children gives me much joy. I thank God afresh every day that I 
am allowed to do work of this kind”. I should like to subscribe 
unreservedly to this expression of thanks; it is an essential feature 
in a description of our situation. 


Historical antecedents and social policy 

What has merely been outlined here in a general way, can only be 
fully understood if certain historical antecedents in social policy 
are taken into consideration. Ecumenical visitors from other 
socialist countries, for example, often ask why they themselves do 
not have these kinds of organized Christian welfare services and 
facilities, and whether proclamation and prayer would not perhaps 
be much more credible if they could be supported by the testimony 
of action. 

The great importance of Christian institutional welfare work in the 
GDR is a result of the pioneer work of the fathers of the Home 
Mission. From August Hermann Francke (d. 1727) and Daniel 
Falk (d. 1826) to classic representatives of the Home Mission 
such as Theodor Fliedner (d. 1864), Johann Heinrich Wichern 
(d. 1881) and Friedrich von Bodelschwingh (d. 1910), the line of 
great and important institutions which they founded spans all 
Germany and some other countries of western Europe. No 
comparable development took place in any other of the present 
socialist countries, because at that time church conditions were 
different. If Christian social service in the GDR today can provide 
stimulus through active ecumenical contacts, this will also con- 
tribute to mutual enrichment in questions of faith as well. We 
are thankful that it has been possible to preserve our inheritance 
and give it new impetus. 

Among the new impulses which preserved the traditional Home 
Mission from ossification, was the Hilfswerk of the Evangelical 
Churches, founded in 1945 after the collapse of the Third Reich. 
Without this relief agency, present-day congregational social 
service would hardly be conceivable. The original purpose of the 
Hilfswerk as an unbureaucratic church institution, was to distribute 
the relief contributions which arrived from many countries for 
the population in distress. Through the far-sightedness and energy 
of those in charge of it at that time, this improvised agency became 
an organized Christian welfare service which struck ever deeper 
roots, especially in the local church congregations. 

The Hilfswerk and its activities were what made many pastors 
realize the value of voluntary Christian service in the local con- 
gregation, and led them to encourage it. The fact that a large 
part of the Church’s comprehensive assistance to the handicapped 
is in the hands of the Hilfswerk, also represents a step towards 
diaconia as it was practised in the early community of Jesus Christ. 
And this diaconal attitude on the part of the local church com- 
munity is necessary to the large Home Mission institutions if they 
are to continue to flourish and do beneficial work. 


A third important antecedent of present-day Christian service must 
also be mentioned, namely the attitude adopted by the responsible 
men of the Home Mission in the Third Reich. Even before the 
euthanasia campaign, and even before Hitler’s actual accession 
to power, voices were raised warning against the consequences of 
the National Socialist ideology. There was resistance to the 
practice of sterilization and to racialist ideology as it emerged. 
From 1933 onwards, there was scarcely a single institution of the 
Home Mission which was not threatened with suppression or 
seriously handicapped in its work. The struggle of men like 
Braune and Bodelschwingh against Hitler’s 1939 euthanasia decree 
is well known. After the temporary cessation of the action in 1941, 
lists were drawn up, including the names of many leading men of 
the Home Mission, who were to be murdered with their families 
after the “final solution”, Hitler’s final victory. After the downfall 
of the Third Reich this, and the common experience of the struggle 
and suffering shared by Christians and communists in Hitler’s 
concentration camps, created a basis of trust in the Home Mission 
which still supports us. The experiences of that time still mark our 
collaboration even today. State agencies reject, precisely as we 
(on theological grounds) reject, any form of misuse of euthanasia, 
and likewise any abuse of genetics, any mental attitude that calls 
in doubt the value of handicapped life. The fundamental equality 
of rights which the socialist state guarantees to each of its citizens, 
has in many respects a very positive effect on the attitude towards 
the disabled. Consequently in their rehabilitation there is trustful, 
practical collaboration between church services and the relevant 
state agencies, which directly benefits the handicapped. 

Theological basis and definition 

Another important aspect of the Church’s work with the handi- 
capped, in addition to these historical antecedents and pre- 
suppositions of social policy, is its theological basis and definition. 
This, of course, applies to the whole diaconal function of the 
Church, not only to the particular field of work with the disabled. 
But there are good reasons for this. The whole Gospel is announced 
to the handicapped, just as they are affected by the whole Gospel 
and in their turn bear witness to it. We sum up this theological 
consideration in six theses, which also represent our view of the 
diaconal function of the Church in a socialist state. 

• Our service is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a 
testimony of faith, a handing on of love and mercy received, 
bestowed on us in the first place by God; a putting to use of 
gifts entrusted to us by him. 


We can remain faithful in this service only if we live constantly 
under his word and sacrament and constantly receive his gifts 
and forgiveness afresh through the Holy Spirit. 

• Our service must be performed within the framework of the 
actual situation in church and society. The freedom of the 
Gospel and the imaginative love flowing from faith cannot be 
limited by any institution. 

• Our service is directed to the individual human being in need 
of help, whom God brings into our life and the circle of our 
responsibilities. Our help can never do more than set signs, 
without fundamentally changing this world or transforming it 
into the Kingdom of God. At the same time we always owe our 
neighbour our whole help for soul and body. 

• The difficulties of our service, the often excessive demands made 
on us, the temptations and defeats in our lives, threaten to 
make us tired and discouraged. Our Saviour holds out so much 
consolation and promise for us, that through his strength we 
can overcome ourselves and assist others. 

• Diaconal service is no substitute for the proclamation of the 
Gospel. All action by itself is ambiguous and has no intrinsic 
evangelistic character. It is not the function of Christian 
service to keep the Church socially acceptable, but to attest 
the proclamation of the Word by action in harmony with it. 

• All the necessary human planning does not dispense us from 
obedience to God. Christian service must be open and ready 
for new paths, even if they are contrary to traditions or our 
own wishes; it is not in competition with the Welfare State. 
At the centre of the Church’s social service there stands not 
man, but Jesus Christ. 

The Churches’ Witness and Service for and with 
the Disabled 

For a number of reasons, only a few particular examples can be 
referred to here. The abundance of initiatives and possibilities 
opened up in work with the handicapped is so great, that volumes 
could be filled describing them. Much is not known at all because 
the work of Christian service often goes on in modest silence. 
Some attempt must nevertheless be made to give some sort of a 
comprehensive survey. For practical purposes we have divided 
the picture into institutional and congregational service, although 
the two fortunately often overlap, or are complementary or 


Institutional service offers greater facilities for medical rehabilitation 
which is carried out in conjunction with educational and social 
rehabilitation. Congregational service does not yet have at its 
disposal the many specialists that work with the disabled in an 
institution: doctor, pastor, catechist, physiotherapist, nurse, tutor, 
social welfare worker and teachers (who are provided by the 
State). In a Home Mission institution, all these specialists are 
paid on the State salary-scales, because a corresponding claim for 
hospital expenses can be made to the National Health Insurance. 

In this way in the three large GDR institutions for the physically 
handicapped which have a complex rehabilitation programme 
(Oberlinhaus/Potsdam-Babelsburg; Pfeiffersche Stiftungen/Magde- 
burg; Marienstift/Arnstadt), children with physical disabilities are 
given scholastic and vocational training from the first school year 
to graduation as skilled worker, and receive the necessary medical 
rehabilitation in the attached specialist orthopaedic clinic. There 
are other institutions which have facilities for orthopaedic treat- 
ment, but have only partial facilities for scholastic or vocational 
training. Without exception, the special schools are supported by 
the State as partners in the rehabilitation work in our establish- 
ments. The houses we have named, therefore, do not provide 
residential homes where the handicapped are cared for throughout 
their lives, but simply take them in for as long as their preparation 
for later life in society requires. 

The GDR has far more large institutions for the mentally handi- 
capped than specialist institutions for the physically disabled. We 
mention here only the Hoffnungstaler Anstalten in Lobetal (a 
Bethel foundation), the Neinstedter Anstalten near Thale (Harz) 
and the Samariteranstalten in Furstenwalde. In these and other 
houses for the mentally handicapped, a completely new state of 
work now prevails. Instead of establishments for purely residential 
care, they have become training centres, in which nearly all the 
mentally handicapped receive instruction and guidance, intellectual, 
spiritual and manual, according to their capacity. The successes 
exceed all expectations. 

The training and advanced training of personnel is also on com- 
pletely new lines. The guiding professional ideal is now that of the 
nurse trained in remedial education. In the larger establishments 
specialist psychiatric clinics have been set up to apply the latest 
scientific insights and methods. In this field, too, there is very close 
collaboration with the specialist State institutions. It certainly 
cannot be said now that the State abandons the uneducable handi- 
capped to the Church, for in recent years a great deal has been done 
by State agencies for this category of the very seriously mentally 
handicapped. It should be mentioned here that the number of 


handicapped in the GDR amounts to about the same proportion 
of the population as in other highly developed industrial states. 
The fact that the GDR is one of the States which have achieved the 
biggest reduction in infantile mortality is a contributory factor, for 
some of the children whose lives have been saved have cerebral 
lesions which result in physical or mental disabilities. 

The purpose of all service with the mentally handicapped is, by 
means of appropriate supporting and remedial measures, to make 
it possible for them to live meaningful, happy lives, and to enable 
them to associate with others. Christian instruction and pastoral 
care face completely new tasks here which, in our country as in 
many others, are now being identified and tackled. 

Involvement of parents 

This purposeful support and promotion gives rise to a whole 
series of special tasks. In order to detect the disabilities of small 
children as early as possible, many clinics of the Home Mission 
hold consulting hours for “children at risk”. If defects are diag- 
nosed, the mothers and the handicapped children are invited to 
preparatory courses. In the Arnstadt Marienstift, for example, 
there are courses of this kind for mothers and spastic children. In 
a fortnight’s course, about ten mothers, accompanied by the 
children, receive guidance on how to cope with their children. They 
find themselves in the company of other parents in the same situation 
and often for the first time in their lives meet with pastoral care. 

How important such pastoral ministry is, can be seen from the 
following lines written by a mother to the pastor in charge: “What 
was new this time was that by holding morning prayers you made 
it easier to start the day. Some mothers who had no connection 
with the Church came but did not expect much from it. They felt 
bitter at having a handicapped child. Nevertheless in the discussion 
I found out for the first time how very attentively these mothers 
started to listen when you spoke of the special task that a handi- 
capped child represents. The way of God’s love in our situation 
is a spur to reflection. I think that all of us will set about our 
daily tasks once more with more confidence and thankfulness”. 
As well as the courses for mothers in some regional churches, work 
is done almost everywhere with parents of handicapped children. 
This has mostly come about in connection with day centres for 
handicapped children run by local congregations. 

Work with parents, or with relatives of the handicapped generally, 
has become an unexpectedly important aspect of church social 


work. A healthy person has just no idea of how the families of the 
disabled suffer as well. People just do not realize all the things that 
the parents of handicapped children have to give up, and what 
lonely lives they often have to live. That is why a great deal of 
help has to be offered at every possible opportunity. 

Conversation with mothers of handicapped children, but also with 
others in this kind of work, makes one realize how many prejudices 
against the disabled are still current among the general public. 
Almost 2,000 years after Christ, the old legalist views are still 
heard: “Everyone gets what he deserves!” In other words, who 
knows what the handicapped or their parents have done to be in 
such a bad way! Or there was the prayer of a certain pastor: “God, 
we thank you that we are healthy and not like those people!” Then 
time and time again one hears the silly talk about natural selection 
performed by nature, with which medicine is interfering. The 
adjectives “bad”, “ugly” and “handicapped” are equated, and not 
only in many a German fairy-tale. Here the representatives of the 
Church and of the State Health Service still have a very great deal 
to do, and they are doing it, each in their own way and with the 
people who are willing to listen to them. 

Various works have recently been published on this by both sides. 
A particularly widely-read book is the report by Edith Meisinger, 
published by the Evangelische Verlagsanstalt (Protestant Publish- 
ing House), Across the Threshold , Notes of a Spastic. This book 
plainly retails these loveless prejudices and protests against them. 
Similarly we read in a GDR daily paper, “Sympathy is not enough. 
Merely to pity the handicapped, to display sentimental compassion, 
usually linked with detached curiosity, is shameful for the handi- 
capped and for ourselves.” All these misconceptions and prejudices 
cause much harm and additional pain, sometimes even to families 
and marriages. 

Handicapped and non-handicapped 

As well as that kind of unfortunate experience, however, one can 
cite just as many examples of good relations between handicapped 
and non-handicapped in the GDR. For example, the sponsorship 
that has been established between many congregations or individuals 
and certain institutions. These sponsorships originally sprang from 
the activities of the Hilfswerk already referred to. Today many of 
the institutions have regular groups of supporters in the parishes, 
who provide very considerable yearly donations. These “unseen 
communities” formed around the institutions are of course drawn 
into all the activities; every donation receives written acknowledge- 
ment and contributors are kept constantly informed about the 


work. It is not a rare thing for people who have no other connection 
with the Church at all to belong to these supporting groups. Some 
have for decades taken an interest in this work and supported it 
with their own offerings. That is all the more remarkable because 
willingness to go on paying the church tax is declining in the 
churches of the GDR, whereas donations for specific fields of 
Christian service are increasing in number and amount. These 
contributions are particularly important for the institutions 
because they enable them to meet expenses which are not covered 
by the State Health Service allowances, purchases and building 
plans in particular, and also to provide other forms of assistance, 
for instance for orphan children in residential care. Some of these 
sponsorships have developed even further. Thus, for instance, 
sponsors will take a handicapped child into their family for the 
holidays or over Christmas. They are quite determined not, as it 
were, to buy exemption from giving real help through a gift of 
money. Commitment of this kind always has positive consequences, 
even beyond the particular family concerned; sometimes in the 
end a whole congregation has been drawn in. 

Institutions are sometimes invited to bring their handicapped 
children to join a congregation in worship, and then in almost 
every home one of the children will be invited to lunch. Visits of 
this kind have not only helped to remove prejudices against the 
handicapped, but at the same time have had a missionary character. 

Pastoral care of the handicapped 

What is in question here is the pastoral care of the handicapped in 
institutions. In principle, of course, any disabled at all who need 
special nursing and care are taken in, including those who have not 
yet even heard of Christ. They thus come into the security of a 
house run on Christian lines, receive Christian teaching and attend 
worship. Our experience is that God’s Word does not return empty. 
The children certainly respond, above all with gratitude and joy. 
Visitors to such children’s homes often say, “I thought that I 
would find the grave disabilities and hard lot of the children 
shattering. But that was not what shook me, it was to find how 
joyful these children are!” So they are already witnesses to Jesus 
Christ, of whom we sing, “In you there is joy, whatever the 
distress”. This unconscious witness also influences the staff* and 
helps them in their arduous task. It also produces its effect on the 
families at home, and affects visitors or those who offer the 
children hospitality. 

Another discovery we have made is that the handicapped, even 
children and young people, form Bible or prayer groups for them- 


selves, or bring one another to baptism. Or, to take another 
example: a boy, with serious muscular atrophy and hardly able to 
move any more, takes a correspondence course in evangelism so as 
to help his pastor in instructing candidates for baptism or persons 
returning to the Church. Children in care of diaconal institutions 
form Bible groups when they go to holiday camps. 

Of great importance, too, is the pastoral ministry in the specialist 
clinics of the large institutions. Many patients who seek help there 
are not church members. Most of them, however, expect to receive 
pastoral care in a house of that kind, or at least accept it willingly 
and thankfully. In this way contact is made with many people who, 
though they do not come to church any more, nevertheless have 
in their hearts a longing for peace with God. 

Physically handicapped people rehabilitated in a Home Mission 
institution, must or may leave on completion of their training and 
return to their home district. In the GDR there are legal regulations 
to ensure the provision of a suitable place of work. Their incor- 
poration into the community in this way is the responsibility of the 
local authorities. In many cases the disabled fit into society again 
without problems, especially if the disability is slight or if their 
parents take an interest in them. It can, of course, be more com- 
plicated and present problems if their parents are dead, or reject 
them. In many such cases the handicapped person has to be found 
a place in a home for old people or a nursing home. This is where 
congregational service begins, for in cases like these it has a special 
function; integration of the handicapped person into a youth 
group, for instance, and pastoral care from the minister or some 
other helper is extremely important. In the churches of all the GDR 
states, a regular service for the physically disabled has developed, 
run by the Landeskirche of the Hilfswerk; it was first set up in 
Saxony and Thuringia. A quite astonishing and truly wonderful 
action. Those who work in it try as far as possible to get to know 
all disabled people living with relatives at home, or in a residential 
institution or fending for themselves. They are invited to parish 
meetings and to special gatherings to meet one another. The focus 
there is on Bible work and discussion on questions of faith as a 
help in life. Often the handicapped themselves direct the Bible 
work or run the meetings. By way of supplement, these groups 
go to attend retreats together in suitable residential homes or 
church welfare establishments. A remarkable feature of this work 
is that, like the establishment of day centres for handicapped 
children, it has grown up and developed without large-scale 

These periods of retreat and recreation are particularly important 
because young non-handicapped Christians also take part, making 


contact with and getting to know the disabled. For their part, the 
handicapped feel that they are no longer alone and abandoned. 
They receive help and can help one another in matters of faith, 
in their everyday affairs, even in marriage counselling. Many who 
have attended these retreats become active workers themselves 
when they go home. We read in a letter, for example, “For a 
number of years we have had a Bible group, founded by a man in 
a wheelchair. His flat is centrally placed in a new block, with a 
lift, and so once a month about 15 disabled and non-disabled 
people meet there ...” 

The church press also reports on the work of service to the physi- 
cally disabled and publishes invitations. Many a congregation has 
in this way received new stimulus and encouragement for its work 
and for greater self-knowledge. 

What kind of stimulus? Not only to firmer personal faith, but 
stimulus to look out for members of the congregation in need of 
help themselves, yet willing to help others as well. What a lot of 
things a congregation can do! For example there are church 
services to which the physically disabled can be specially invited 
but which they can only attend if other members of the congregation 
bring them in their cars. In other parishes, the parents of handi- 
capped children come together and set up a day centre for them 
in the parish hall. In many places, groups of helpers visit the 
handicapped or old people in their own homes and give them a 
hand. And there are parishes where disabled people, even in 
wheelchairs, belong to the parish council. Here it is obvious that 
full recognition for the handicapped has been achieved. 

For one thing is quite clear: full rehabilitation involves not only 
the receiving of help, but also self-help, and above all equality of 
rights. I quote once again from the daily press: “Patronizing 
condescension from the strong towards the weak is degrading for 
disabled human beings. They certainly need our help and under- 
standing, but understanding on the basis of equal partnership”. It 
is the task of congregational service to translate these insights into 
action and this is what is already happening in many cases and 
setting an example. The demand for equal partnership with equality 
of rights has been very effectively supported by exhibitions held in 
churches in two big towns. The model for these undertakings was 
the permanent travelling exhibition of the Home Mission Centre 
in Berlin. This central office also produces numerous publications 
concerning the problems of the handicapped within the framework 
of organized Christian service. Yet that is not the only agency; 
an institution in Thuringia has published five books for the 
physically disabled in recent years. Furthermore, as has already 


been mentioned, all church newspapers in all the Lander are 
always ready to report on questions and problems of the handi- 
capped and their rehabilitation. 

Real progress will only have been made, however, when it has 
come to be taken so much for granted for handicapped and non- 
handicapped to live together in congregations and society, that no 
one needs to waste another word on the subject. That is the goal 
of all our endeavours. 

(May 1977) 


For Example — in Kenya 


Karen Kamau 


The term “disabled” covers a very wide range of handicaps. For 
our purpose, we shall stick to the generally accepted types of 
disabled persons: the crippled, the blind, the deaf/dumb, and the 
mentally handicapped. In order to get a glimpse of the extent of 
the problem in this country, some statistical information may be 
useful. It is estimated that out of a population of 13.5 million, at 
least 70,000 are blind (of whom 30,000 are children), 50,000 are 
physically crippled and 15,000 are deaf. There are no figures 
available on mentally retarded persons. It can be safely argued 
that the numbers given above are too small. Clear statistical 
evidence is not available. 

Traditionally, the disabled were cared for by close relatives 
throughout their lives. Nobody ever imagined that disabled persons 
could be trained to become useful members of the community. 
They were accepted as lifelong beggars and received alms. With the 
changes in family patterns, the disabled have gradually found 
themselves neglected, for the various members of the family are no 
longer able to take responsibility for their welfare. It has become 
necessary, therefore, for outsiders to care for them. 

Just as the Church and church-affiliated bodies were the originators 
of schools, hospitals and other social welfare services in this 
country, they were also the first to engage in serious work for the 
disabled. The Salvation Army, the Roman Catholic and the 
Presbyterian Churches of East Africa are especially known for their 

• Mrs Karen Kamau is Deputy Coordinator of the Urban Community 
Improvement Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. 


work in this field. There are also national voluntary organisations 
which work among the disabled. The Association of the Physically 
Disabled of Kenya, the Society for the Blind, Kenya Society for 
Deaf Children, Kenya Society for the Mentally Handicapped are 
but a few examples. 

By the late 1960s, the government became increasingly involved 
in the welfare of the disabled. Previously, the role of the govern- 
ment had been limited to giving annual subsidies in the form of 
grants to bodies providing these services. The change of attitude 
was brought about mainly by pressure from the voluntary agencies 
which found themselves short of funds when many of the European 
supporting bodies left the country after its independence. Today, 
the Ministry of Education pays salaries to all teachers in special 
schools. There are 22 schools for the deaf, 9 for the blind, 8 each 
for the mentally retarded and the physically disabled. It is estimated 
that 2000 special schools would be required to meet the needs of 
all handicapped children in Kenya. 

The Ministry of Education also maintains 2 training courses for 
specialized teachers, one for teachers of the deaf at Siriba College, 
Maseno, and one for teachers of mentally handicapped persons at 
Highridge College, Nairobi. The Ministry also gives scholarships 
for specialized teachers to go abroad for further studies and 

The Ministry of Housing and Social Services has established 
7 vocational rehabilitation centres and sheltered workshops to 
train disabled adults. The centres are situated in the main regions 
of Kenya. Adults between the age of 18 and 37 are admitted for a 
year’s intensive course. They do not necessarily need to have gone 
through school, for most of the training is in handicrafts. After 
the training, their work standard is high enough to compete with 
any in the market. Later the trainees are employed or they form 
cooperatives in which their products are sold. 

The Ministry of Health’s role has remained that of providing 
surgical and therapeutic treatment. Medical officers are involved 
in assessing the type of training which can be accomplished by a 
disabled person according to the extent of his or her disablement. 
It must be noted that the government, through the Ministries of 
Housing and Social Services and Education, provides these services 
only for children of school age and adults under 40. Much remains 
to be done for the children of pre-school age and for adults over 40. 
The churches realize that they have to maintain and even expand 
their work. 


The Churches’ Involvement in the Plight of the 

There are many churches in Kenya, but as already mentioned, 
three of them stand out for their committed work with handicapped 

• The Salvation Army is well-known for its work among blind 
and crippled children. It set up in 1946 the first school for the blind 
in East Africa with 25 students. Today, this school has a centre for 
pre-school children, a complete primary school, a secondary school 
and a vocational section which provides rehabilitation for ex- 
primary and secondary school students. Two more schools have 
been founded by the Salvation Army in the other parts of Kenya. 
The three institutions take care of 1000 blind children. But, as has 
already been pointed out, there are at least 30,000 blind children 
in our country. Who takes care of them? 

The Salvation Army is also renowned for its work with crippled 
children, and has two schools which cater for about 500. Again 
this is but a beginning when one thinks of the 50,000 physically 
disabled children who live in Kenya today. 

• The Presbyterian Church of East Africa, in its work for the 
disabled concentrates on deaf children. It runs two schools which 
were set up in 1965 through a combined effort by the church, local 
people and the government. At the end of 1976, 151 children 
attended the schools. But the estimated number of deaf children 
in the country is 15,000! 

• The Roman Catholic Church, is the only church which equals 
or even surpasses the work of the Salvation Army among the 
socially and economically disadvantaged people in Kenya. No 
comprehensive report from its dioceses was available to the author 
but, according to the indications of the Ministry of Education, in 
1974 the Roman Catholic Church maintained 11 schools and 
centres for disabled children. Besides these, there are also centres 
for adults. 

The Ahero Parish in Kisumu, where the Roman Catholic Church 
has set up a special programme for the disabled, deserves particular 
attention. A full description of it is given, therefore, in Part II of 
this report. The work in this area should be regarded as a model 
of how a self-help movement can work. It has taken the traditional 
African system of social care based on family and clan ties and 
extended it to all the suffering people in the villages. Thus the clan 
system of mutual responsibility and the Christian message of 


brotherly and sisterly love have been joined together to mobilize 
effective support for and participation of the needy. It should also 
be noted that the coordinator of this project is himself a member 
of the community and thus is able to meet the village people on 
their own ground, to communicate directly with them and to 
mobilize their energies. 

In summary, comparing the kinds of services I have described, it 
is clear that there is a vast difference between the work done for 
handicapped persons in the various areas and that in the Ahero 
parish. Many churches are providing some services for the disabled 
but very few have involved the local communities in the way it has 
been done in Ahero. There is a felt need that the Ahero model be 
taken up in other areas. 

It can be expected that the government will create more and more 
facilities for the disabled parallel to the way in which it has helped 
to spread education to all parts of the country. It will be essential 
for the churches to make full use of the experiences gained in the 
Ahero Parish and to promote them wherever they can. The involve- 
ment of local Christians is indispensable. It is also hoped that with 
the increase of domestic hygiene and more adequate nutrition less 
children will fall victim to illnesses which create disabilities, such as 
polio and eye diseases. There is evident need to involve all citizens 
in the prevention of disabilities. 

B. D. Harrison 

A Self-reliant Scheme of Social Care 

A Look at the Map 

The township of Ahero lies in the middle of the Kano plain, 
14 miles from Kisumu in Kenya, on the main Kisumu-Nairobi 
road. It falls under the jurisdiction of the District of Kisumu in 
the Central Nyanza Province. 

Ahero is the central market for the Kano plain. The plain to the 
west, stretches along Lake Victoria from Kisumu; to the east, it 
borders on to the Kipsigis hills and to the north, it is flanked by the 


Nandi highlands. The plain itself is predominantly inhabited by 
the Luo tribe — a Nilotic group which travelled down from the 
lower Sudan several hundred years ago and settled around the 
shores of the lake. 

The greater part of the Kano plain is still undeveloped and offers 
a very poor level of subsistence to its dense population. 80 to 90% 
of the needs of the people has to be met from the earnings of a 
minority who have been lucky enough to find work outside the 

The Parish of Ahero covers the entire Kano plain — an area of 
approximately 264 sq. miles. 

The total number of inhabitants in this area is approximately 
120,000 contained in 10 sub parish districts incorporating 54 villages. 

The Joot Movement 

The African culture possesses to a great extent an in-built system 
of social care based upon the family and clan ties, but with the 
modern development of industrial centres, cities and improved 
means of travel, it is inevitable that former close-knit communities 
are going to become more widely spread. Unless the cultural 
system of social care is extended to transcend the limitations of 
family and clan, the problems of the destitute, the aged and the 
infirm will weigh heavily upon the government in modern times. 
The concept of the Joot (Family) Movement covers a much wider 
field than that represented by the bond existing between blood 

The Joot of Ahero embraces all those living throughout the parish 
area and offers care and comfort to each and every one regardless 
of their creed or circumstances. 

The word Joot represents “the family of mankind” to which all 
are related as brothers and sisters. 

The existent structure of the clan system of social responsibility 
coupled with the basic Christian message of unity provides a 
unique platform on which an organization can be built, at negligible 
cost — to alleviate the suffering which is inevitably found in any 

Contrary to the accepted principles of systematic delegation (which 
starts from the major, central body), the Joot plan starts from the 
smallest unit — the village. As a single cell it is totally viable to 
suit local conditions and is able to reproduce itself in various 
formats to meet the existing conditions in any given situation. 
Furthermore, at the village level the cultural, social system is 
already established. 


The object of the Joot plan is merely to relate the existent sense of 
responsibility to a wider field and at the same time to bolster the 
effort where it becomes beyond the capacity of a single cell unit to 
cope with any specific problem. Even at this level the responsibility 
is still maintained, in part, by the single cell unit in that separate 
villages may join forces to overcome a common problem. For 
example, a plough that may be too heavy to be drawn by one ox 
can easily be pulled by two. 

The Church, therefore, laid the suggestion with individual villages 
that in caring for their own needy people they should widen their 
horizon to embrace not only their family, their clan and their 
fellow Christians, but also for their neighbours, for these people, 
too, are an integral part of their community. The development of 
such an attitude has the effect of covering the welfare of the total 

The motivating force of the Christian belief in the sanctity of 
human life and dignity, when put into action, has the effect of 
providing benefits and raising the standard of living of the entire 
community by their own efforts. 

The Beginnings 

The scheme started in 1960 in random villages throughout the 
parish. Each village elected its own leader who was assisted by 
8-10 helpers. 

Meetings are held every week. During the course of the week, the 
helpers visit every single Dhala within the area of their village and 
systematically note those who need assistance in one form or 
another. Within any particular village there may be people who 
are old and unable to care for themselves, cripples with no de- 
pendents to carry water for them, the chronically sick, unable to 
obtain medical supplies, lepers, blind people, young children born 
deaf or stricken with disease and orphans suddenly deprived of their 
parents by a disaster with no one responsible to take care of them. 
Upon the day of the village Joot meeting, the helpers discuss the 
problems that they have encountered during the previous week and 
devise a plan of action. With the true spirit of Christian love, those 
who are able offer part of their time to visit at regular intervals 
those who need care. They work together splitting up the work 
between them and encouraging others to join in. They may merely 
spend an hour or two talking to a lonely old lady or some may be 
designated to fetch water for those who are unable to carry it for 
themselves. Others will perhaps clean out the house of a blind 


person whilst others may repair the walls or re-thatch the roof of 
a hut. By such work the village comes to life and flowers within 
itself. They share the joy of being necessary to each other and 
such hardships as exist become easier to bear. 

Every Sunday the Christians hold their own prayer meeting to 
which any non-Christians are also welcome. A collection is held 
at this time and all the offerings either cash or in kind are placed 
an a fund to help those who need it most. 

Co-ordination of the Joot Movement 

During the first 5 years the principles of self-help spread to 
44 villages within the area of the parish and each was successfully 
operating its own internal scheme. 

In 1965 the leaders from each village decided to form a Central 
Committee and to hold monthly meetings at a central point in 
the parish where they could exchange ideas and standardize their 
approach to common problems. At this council a report would 
be submitted by each leader on the progress that had taken place 
during the previous month and what additional help would be 
needed for the period ahead. Carefully documented records were 
kept of all cases of extreme hardship or suffering and under the 
chairmanship of one of their members it was decided which course 
of action could best be adopted to bring help to the needy. The 
parish priest being involved merely as an advisor was able to offer 
aid when requested but this method of precise tabulation of the 
problems meant that each case was pin-pointed and could be 
tackled at a moment’s notice. 

Instances of blind or deaf children could be referred to special 
schools with which the parish priest was in contact. Supplementary 
food or clothing could be directed where it was most needed and 
orphaned children or those suffering from extreme malnutrition 
could be brought in for intensive care at the Mission. 

Most of the work to be done required only common involvement 
but where any expenditure was necessary the costs were met from 
the Weekly Meeting Fund. To this extent the movement was 
entirely self-supporting and within the limitation of how much 
could possibly be done by the sole efforts of the helpers, the 
scheme solved most of the everyday problems which arose. There 
was one specific problem however, which, with the best will in the 
world the efforts of the Single Cell Units were not able to cover 
adequately — the care of the aged over a long period of time. It 


was just not possible for a woman with the responsibilities of her 
home and family to give up all her time to look after perhaps 
several destitute old people who, in all probability, lived quite 
some distance apart. 

The Spread of the Movement 

After considerable discussion both at local and central level, the 
leaders decided the problem could best be solved by forming them- 
selves into groups at sub-parish level. Thus a collection of neigh- 
bouring villages whilst still retaining their own individuality would 
also work together as a larger unit. It would then be a practical 
solution to set aside an area of land in each sub-parish and create 
a special Dhala solely for the housing and care of these old people. 

The cost and the practical work could be shared amongst the 
surrounding villages and the burden would thus be lighter. The 
idea of one central parish home was considered but rejected for a 
number of reasons . . . 

• It was inhumane to uproot elderly people from their own 
environment and expect them to spend their twilight days 
away from their friends and people they had known all their 

• It was impractical for their own communities to give them 
support if they were removed too far away from their own 

• Any large group of destitute old people would necessarily have 
to be institutionalized for the sake of efficiency requiring 
permanent staff and high overheads. 

• The object of the exercise was not to cast them out from 
society but to retain them as near as possible to their own 
environment and give them the chance to live normal lives, 
co-operating with and helping each other so that they would 
all have a continued purpose in life. 

The first of these Social Care Centres for the Aged was set up 
in 1969 at Nyang’oma shortly after which it received official 
recognition from the government and a subsidy of K.Shs. 2000 
per year. Six months later a second centre was created at Masogo 
and by the end of 1971 four more had been established at Boya, 
Obugi, Withur and Ramula. The Ombaka centre followed in 1972 
and the eighth at Oren was opened in 1973. Each is designed to 


contain 14 houses for elderly destitutes plus one house for a 
volunteer caretaker. The government has also supplied water to 
the Nyang’oma centre and it is hoped they will adopt or assist 
the remaining seven as well. 

Following the formation of sub-parish Joot groups in 1969 it was 
decided that the Single Cell Unit operation should not be disturbed. 
The strength of the movement was in its roots. Thus weekly 
meetings, collections and the work of the helpers goes on. In 
addition the leaders from each village together with two of their 
helpers attend a monthly meeting at sub-parish centres and tackle 
problems of collective interest with which they are better able to 
cope due to the spread of responsibility. 

It is worth mentioning at this point that the weekly collections 
taken over the course of the year at these sub-parish centres totals 
over 5000/ — per annum. In addition the parish Church Sunday 
offering also is put into the central fund. Thus by their own efforts 
the money is provided to partly support the movement’s activities. 

In addition, the leaders themselves also attend the central council 
meetings of the parish Joot which are held once a month. Here the 
parish priest is usually in attendance and can look into any diffi- 
culties to which his attention is directed with the minimum of 
delay. Discussion groups are also encouraged and guest speakers 
invited to participate. Money is apportioned to where it is most 
needed from the central fund set aside for the purpose. 

In order to maintain the momentum of the movement and increase 
efficiency it became apparent that a full time co-ordinator would 
be required. The vitality of the movement is based solely on the 
fact that there is total involvement by those who participate in it. 
By the same token it was equally important to find a man both 
willing and able to undertake the task of visiting the villages and 
Care Centres at regular intervals. He had to be a man in whom the 
people had confidence, who believed strongly in the objects of the 
Joot and knew the locality like the back of his hand. 

The obvious solution was to find a man willing to stand for the 
post from within the ranks of the leaders themselves. Such a man 
with field experience could contribute considerably more to the 
scheme than even a highly trained social worker who would come 
from outside. 

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Nairobi was instrumental in 
providing a subsidy of 2500/ — in order that the position could be 
created. 700/ — was for the provision of a bicycle and initial 
equipment and 1800/ — was to provide the man with a subsistence 
allowance of 150/ — per month. In August 1973 the man who was 
formerly the leader of Masogo was elected to the post. 


The Joot Meetings Format 

The pattern in which the weekly rural meetings and monthly 
sub-parish and central meetings follow is important to the efficient 
running of the movement. 

The structure of the meetings has been carefully formulated to 
accommodate all the business of the day and also to give plenty 
of time for discussion. Guidelines of this format are laid down for 
the information of others who might care to study the system. 

A. The village meetings (weekly) 

1 . The leader starts the meeting with prayers and writes in his 
book the names of those present. 

2. The helpers report what they have done during the past 

3. The leader then discusses with the helpers how they can 
assist the needy in the coming week. 

4. He records the work that has been done and makes a note 
of what has to be done and the names of those allocated 
specific tasks. 

5. The leader or a representative of the village is chosen to 
attend the sub-parish meeting. 

6. A collection is made. 

7. The meeting closes with a prayer. 

B. Meeting at the sub-parish Centre (monthly) 

1. Chairman, Treasurer and the Secretary sit together around 
the table. 

2. The Chairman reads the prayer and opens the meeting. 

3. Reading of the Gospel to get the way to action. 

4. Secretary reads the report from the villages. 

5. Those who are responsible for the Care Centres bring 

6. Leaders discuss how they can meet and solve some difficulties 
together. Leaders tell the Secretary the minutes which can 
be taken to the Central Parish Meeting. 

7. The leaders show the helpers the balance. 

8. Then the meeting ends with a prayer. 


C. Meeting of the central parish Joot (monthly) 

1. The Chairman, Treasurer and the Secretary sit together 
around the table. 

2. The Chairman reads a prayer and opens the meeting. 

3. Reading and discussion about what has been said in the 

4. The Secretary reads the minutes. 

5. The representatives from each sub-parish read their reports. 

6. Any invited guest gives a speech. 

7. Matters arising from the minutes. 

8. Joot Co-ordinator, Mr. Gradus Ojuki, gives his comments. 

9. The Treasurer reads the balance to the meeting. 

10. The meeting ends with a prayer. 

The Sub Parish Groups 

At present there are 8 Care Centres each related to a sub-parish 
group. Just one or two examples will give some idea of what is 
being done in these Centres. 

Masogo: The sub-parish of Masogo comprises 6 villages. Four 
have fully active groups of helpers. Two others are gradually being 
built up. Each village has its own leader and there are a total of 
38 helpers who work mainly in their own villages. Between them, 
they take care of... 52 elderly people, 15 cripples, 17 orphans, 
10 blind, 1 mental defective and 2 deaf. 

There is a Care Centre for the aged situated in Masogo which v/as 
started in December 1969 with a gift of 1200/ — donated by the 
Lions Club of Kisumu. The scheme now has its final complement 
of 14 houses for old people and volunteer caretaker’s house is 
shortly to be constructed. The costs of running water to this centre 
would be approximately 8-9000/ — and this sum has been promised 
by the Lions Club whose overall support has been of immense 

The Dhala is situated on a 3 acre plot which is the standard area 
for these Care Centres. The entire community from the surrounding 
villages visits the Dhala on one afternoon every week bringing 


food, clothing and small gifts to the old people. The men repair 
roofs and also tend the shamba where millet and pamba are being 
grown to provide more food. There is also a second community 
visit on Sundays when there is a prayer meeting and a collection. 
In addition to this the helpers call from time to time for a short 
visit to ensure that everyone is alright and to have a chat. 

In January 1973, through the generosity of the Inner Wheel Club 
of Kisumu, it was possible to provide 12 hens and a cockerel. This 
brood has now grown to 50 and the sale of eggs and livestock helps 
to make the Dhala self-supporting. 

The homes were built by volunteers from the local villages. The 
men constructed the framework and roofed the structure whilst 
the women plastered the walls. It is aimed to provide every home 
with an iron frame bed and mattress, 2 blankets, a small table, a 
stool or chair and a selection of cooking pots and utensils, a 
karaya and a bucket. The cost of these items is met from the 
central Joot fund. The central Joot fund also keeps the Dhala 
supplied with cooking oil and soap. 

Within the Dhala there is a central food store and a latrine. Close 
by the Care Centre is a primary school, medical centre and social 
hall where meetings and social activities are in progress throughout 
the week. 

The inhabitants themselves keep busy with mat-making and these 
are given to the poor of their community. 

During the time that this centre has been in operation two old 
ladies have died. Quite contrary to local custom the leaders decided 
amongst themselves to set aside a corner of the Dhala as a burial 
place and to re-allocate the empty houses to other destitute people. 
This practice has been accepted throughout the whole Joot 

Nyang’oma: This sub-parish has 56 helpers in 6 villages. They 
are... Nyalendo, Ayucha, Akwanya, Awassi Holo, Nyang’oma 
and Pala. They help. . . 31 elderly people, 7 blind, 10 orphans and 
1 lame. 

The Care Centre for the aged was the first of its kind in the Ahero 
parish and was started with a gift of 3000/ — from the Kisumu 
Rotary Club and Inner Wheel. This has 14 elderly residents and a 
caretaker’s house. The food store and WC are still under con- 
struction. Nyang’oma is particularly fortunate in having a water 
supply which was provided in 1973 by the government. Within a 


few hundred yards lies the primary school from where the children 
come to an area in the centre of the Dhala to play and hold their 
traditional dances for the entertainment of the old people. These 
children can also be found sitting in groups listening to tales of 
bygone days and learning of their heritage. 

Baskets which are made by the residents are sold in the local 
market as are eggs and poultry produced in the Dhala. Millet is 
grown in the shamba and with the help of the surrounding villagers, 
their economy is virtually self-supporting. 


The ultimate aim has been to provide a social scheme within the 
parish district which is self reliant. Major strides have been made 
towards this goal but it has been a practical problem to raise all 
the money needed to create the primary establishment of the Care 
Centre. Rotary, Lions and Inner Wheel Clubs have been of 
considerable assistance and the people themselves have put their 
hearts and what money they can spare into ensuring the continued 
growth of the project. Many of these Care Centres still need many 
of the essential items of equipment, beds, chairs, tables, etc. Such 
things will come to hand eventually but more financial aid is 

It is not easy to realize just how much devoted effort goes into 
the daily care of over 800 helpless individuals and yet this is being 
done voluntarily and cheerfully by a handful of dedicated people. 
The amount of annual capital needed to maintain and boost the 
effort is comparatively very little under this scheme. Careful 
co-ordination is, of course, of vital importance and an added 
advantage would be to have regular medical care available to the 
sufferers in the form of a mobile medical unit, which could even 
serve several parishes. 

Whilst the work of co-ordination has been found in practice to be 
most efficient when handled through a local man elected by the 
people themselves, there is certainly room for trained social 
workers to visit the centres to teach domestic hygiene and child 
care, etc. In view of the fact that it is already an established custom 
for the villagers to gather in these centres twice a week, the contact 
to carry out this work is very much simplified. 

Similar movements have been found in the parishes of Mbaga and 
Nyang’oma (Sakwa) and it is perhaps helpful to suggest that the 
encouragement of further development along the lines of the Ahero 


Joot movement might be of assistance both to the government and 
the people as a whole. Even assuming a cost of 2,000/ — per annum 
per centre, plus the cost of a co-ordinator at up to 2,500/ — per 
annum an area the size of the Kano plain can be covered for very 
little and this system ensures 100 per cent effectiveness. 

The Joot movement has been organized at parish level and operates 
if not directly through the Church, certainly within its sphere of 
influence. Indeed without the spiritual thrust generated by their 
beliefs there would be little incentive for the helpers to give up so 
much of their time. Nevertheless, kind-heartedness is not only the 
prerogative of Christians and it is vital that the movement is for 
the benefit of every man, woman and child, no matter what their 

It would be impossible to make the Joot movement the subject 
of a directive and as such it is possibly better to disassociate it 
from the standard disciplines of government channels, nevertheless 
if the system received even the tacit support from the District 
Development Officers, Chiefs, sub-chiefs, etc. more of the non- 
denominational element might be persuaded to actively participate. 

It has been proved beyond any doubt that not only does the system 
work but that it puts the future of the people where it rightfully 
belongs — in their own hands. Hardship can be faced with dignity 
and the chance to overcome difficulties breeds the will to succeed. 


For Example — in the USA 


Harold H. Wilke 

The Church is There 

The quality of presence — the Da-sein — is a hallmark of the 
Church and religious faith for the maimed and broken in life. 
“For me, an individual born with cerebral palsy, the Church during 
more than forty years has proved the most accepting community 
I have participated in,” states a disabled minister. 

Congregational Responses 

The normal congregation — if there is such — takes within itself 
persons who are disabled as a part of the ongoing life of the fellow- 

“As a child and young adult, I was welcomed into church school 
classes and programmes, a college-age fellowship, and campus 
ministry study groups. These settings nurtured in me a trust of the 
God who sustains us through the persons with whom he surrounds 

“In my judgment, this experience of seeking help where I need it 
and rendering service where I can, has been one more demonstration 
of the shared life that pulses within the Body of Christ. Thanks be 
to God.” 

• Harold Wilke, born without arms, has served his Church, the United 
Church of Christ in the USA, in many capacities. As Director of the Healing 
Community which operates throughout and beyond the USA he has become 
one of the main advocates for persons with handicaps and other marginalized 
groups. A leading member of international commissions on rehabilitation 
issues Wilke was the first person from the clergy to receive the Preminger 
Award in 1978 for “international humanitarian service in rehabilitation’’. 


These two statements by persons with handicaps illustrate the 
power of the accepting congregation. However, only few take this 
power seriously. Hence there is constant need to create a conscious 
awareness for it. To state a few examples: 

An approach that has great potential for consciousness-raising 
within ordinary congregations is fulfilled by a group in Chicago 
which convenes its handicapped members once a month at a 
different church in the area. Some 25 to 100 physically disabled 
persons in wheelchairs will, by pre-arrangement and invitation, 
converge upon a specific church, to become a part of the wor- 
shipping congregation in the morning and then to be hosted with 
lunch and afforded time for fellowship in the afternoon. 

The group of disabled individuals goes to various churches, but it 
does have favourites. “I hear they like to keep coming back to my 
church,” said the minister of one large and prestigious church in a 
Chicago suburb, “because they know that the senior minister is 
blind, one associate minister is female, and the other associate is 
a hippie.” 

Some congregations composed entirely of persons with handicaps 
have been created. These separatist groups minister only to 
disabled persons. One example, with several subsidiaries in 
different parts of the country, is the “Church of the Exceptional”, 
in Macon, Georgia, with well over 200 members, all with varying 
handicaps and with church architecture and worship — and con- 
gregational expectancy — geared to these persons with special 
needs. The stated philosophy is ultimately to integrate with 
“normal” congregations, but in the meantime, feeling unaccepted, 
these persons have opportunity to worship in the comfortable 
presence of individuals like themselves. Another group is “Victim 
Missionaries”, 12,000 strong, with chapters in a dozen states but 
based in the convent of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, 
Illinois, under the charismatic leadership of Father John Maronic. 
Not limited to Catholics, the group, through its members penetrates 
many Catholic churches. 

National Church Expressions 

Continuing specialized ministries under church auspices have been 
maintained for many years by the Episcopal Church, a number of 
Lutheran bodies and most other denominations in greater or lesser 
degree. Such ministries stem sometimes from the national denomi- 
national offices; more often they have come out of diocesan or 
synodical responses, which then have spread to other areas of the 


Church. The usual target groups for such ministries have been 
persons representing very specific difficulties, such as the deaf or 
the blind. Within a local area, numbers of churches will tacitly 
accept an ecumenical answer by simply pointing out that “singing” 
for the deaf is carried on at one or more specific churches in the 
city and deaf members in a church where such singing is not 
practiced are in effect invited to the church where it is, even though 
that church may be of another denomination. 

The Church has created institutions for the care of persons with 
disabilities so serious as to make it painful and difficult for them 
or their families to live in society. For the past 150 years, it has been 
proper for the Church to institutionalize such persons; in many 
cases the Church has turned over to secular society the keeping of 
these institutions. Several of our denominations have been leaders 
in this work, which is motivated by humanitarian concern and 
often is necessary, although institutionalization is not always the 
best solution. The Church in Germany helped to create the idea 
that institutions can best take care of alienated people, and churches 
in the USA then carried their example to this country in the late 
19th century. 

Such institutional care is big business in the churches in the USA, 
and directors and chaplains of the institutions for orphans, elderly, 
handicapped, retarded and others meet annually in a week-long 
symposium, sharing concerns and problems. There are a thousand 
chaplains of institutions, most selected within the context of 
rigorous training standards of clinical pastoral education. 

Many millions of dollars are provided by the churches in a noble 
attempt to care for persons with special needs. 

In the United Church of Christ, for example, 115 institutions are 
related to the Church, several wholly owned. Twelve are hospitals, 
basically community in nature, some serving as major hospitals in 
good-sized cities. There are a dozen community and neighbourhood 
centres of various kinds, and another dozen units serving children, 
with all the rest for aging. Two hundred thousand persons are 
served, by 16,000 staffers, at a cost of $2,500,000 in institutions 
valued at over $600,000,000. Remarkably, only $2,500,000 of this 
support money comes from the Church and from individual church 
givers, all the rest coming from community or patients or from 
special grants. 

The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and the 
three major Lutheran bodies each provides comparable data, 
reflecting the remarkable diversity of diaconal work in the USA. 


Such work, of course, must continue: “In. . . affirming our con- 
viction that the unity and integration of the disabled in the Church 
are based on the Gospel of Christ, we affirm also the continuing 
need for institutions in which the most severely disabled experience 
help, protection and care.” These are words of the Bad Saarow 
Consultation of the World Council of Churches and the Innere 
Mission and Hilfswerk of the Churches in the German Democratic 
Republic L 

The system of church-run institutions has its counterpart in church 
health and welfare agencies bringing their expertise and experience 
into the secular community. Thus most of the major denominations 
in the USA have councils for health and welfare. They are designed 
to work with the health and welfare institutions operated by or 
related to the denominations, and also to relate the denominations 
to the various secular institutional activities, keeping the lines of 
communication open between religious motivation and secular 
responses to need. All of this illustrates a marked difference from 
the diaconal service of churches elsewhere. 

At top hierarchical levels, both denominationally and ecumenically, 
the churches have expressed concern for the disabled. The Louvain 
Conference held by the Faith and Order Commission of the World 
Council of Churches in 1971 clearly placed on the agenda of World 
Christianity the matter of the Church’s ministry for persons with 
handicaps. In Nairobi in 1975, the World Council of Churches’ 
Assembly, not only included this matter on the agenda but, in 
putting emphasis on “ministry to and with ”, fostered a far more 
accurate theological understanding of that ministry and placed it 
squarely at the heart of the Gospel 1 2 . 

Some church groups in the USA had taken action even earlier: 
the United Methodist Church in the early 1960s brought into the 
curriculum of the church school a concern for persons with 
disabilities, and at its quadrennial General Conference in 1976 
referred to its Board of Global Ministries a resolution looking 
toward a national expression of concern for the handicapped. 
Several Lutheran bodies have had a long tradition of special 
ministries to such groups as the deaf and the blind, and the 
Episcopal Church has also been heavily involved in such specialized 

1 Para. II. 1. The full text of the Bad Saarow Memorandum can be found in 
Appendix II, pp. 177. 

2 The text referred to here is quoted in the Preface of Dr. Vischer. See p. 2. 


Religious Organizations take up the Cause 

Early in 1971 a number of church persons along with experts from 
outside the church created the Healing Community, an action- 
research project designed specifically to discover whether the 
Church really can respond to the various kinds of alienated persons 
in our society, and what some of these responses might be. It was 
intended to help the religious community facilitate the integration 
of the handicapped and the alienated into the mainstream of 
society and of local congregational life. Totally interdenominational 
and interfaith, Healing Community has been active both in the 
USA and abroad. In the winter of 1973, it became administratively 
related to the New Samaritan Corporation of Connecticut and 
received major funding from the Lilly Endowment. Its current 
major goals include: 

Creating the Caring Congregation 

Models of Ministry with Handicapped Persons 

Access to Professional Theological Education 

Consultants for Independent Living 

Resource Center for Religious Groups 

International Extension of Healing Community Concept 

Findings of the action-research program will be published in 1979 
under the working title, Creating the Caring Congregation. The 
Healing Community is one of the many signs that a major ferment 
exists — on the part of the churches expressing concern and on the 
part of that emerging minority who are asking whether only secular 
institutions will respond to their needs. 

De-institutionalization as a Goal 

But now, within our churches and in secular society, the process 
of de-institutionalization is gathering force. For just one example, 
the number of persons in mental hospitals — over a quarter 
million seven years ago — has been cut in half over the past six 
years. Most of our state governments and the United States 
Department of Health, Education and Welfare follow an intentional 
programme of de-institutionalization. In many cases our churches 
have led the way. 

Within a stressful, technologically oriented society, the facts are 
clear. Ever more people are becoming alienated, and ever more of 
them are coming out into the open. A highly scientific western 
world creates so much that is new and effective in medicine and 
technology that, on the one hand, more and more persons are 
injured and crippled by the use of that technology; on the other 


hand, more and more persons severely injured are saved to life 
through technology. Thus we are creating and holding on to an 
ever increasing number of handicapped individuals. 

An overwhelming majority of these persons need not, should not 
and indeed cannot be institutionalized. They are part of our 
society, not apart from it. More sharply than ever before, the idea 
of mainstreaming — keeping persons who differ from the norm 
within the main current of social life — is becoming a part of 
Western thinking. In this context, there is an urgent need for 
society to respond to a “coming-out party” for those who are 
about to be de-institutionalized, as well as a need for a far more 
adequate response to that much larger number who already are 
in our midst. Certainly the religious community, in its contact with 
people on every street corner and in every hamlet, has a prime 
opportunity to help in this mainstreaming process. 

But the vast majority of handicapped persons are not in institutions. 
And neither are they in church. The “invisible people” of our 
society, they are kept out of sight, and out of mind. And from the 
viewpoint of the Church, as Bette Knapp reports, “Church life — 
at all levels — reflects the values and attitudes of the society in 
which it exists. Thus, in practice, it is reserved for those who are 
intellectually gifted, emotionally stable, and physically agile and 
mobile. The disabled, who individually may possess any combi- 
nation of these attributes, are nevertheless looked upon as weak, 
helpless, incompetent and unable to contribute. They are relegated 
to the sidelines or out of sight in caring institutions. They are 
placed in enforced situations of dependence, rather than helped 
towards self-actualization in life in the community. They are made 
objects of pity, condescension and charity, rather than accepted as 
colleagues and equals.” 3 

Helping the Church see its Opportunity 

Architecturally mostly inaccessible to persons in wheelchairs, the 
churches of our land defy the disabled worshipper to enter, in 
contrast to many secular buildings. In Las Vegas last year, in five 
different casinos, the writer asked five different persons in wheel- 
chairs whether they had encountered any barriers to their entering. 
The answer was always, “No, should there be?” Gambling casinos, 
ok! Churches, no! 

3 One World , June 1977, No. 27, p. 7. 


So how are churches overcoming these architectural barriers? In 
part, by accident, in part, by thoughtful concern on the part of an 
individual member or a pastor; in part, by prodding from local and 
national groups. 

The United Presbyterian Church in the USA in June 1977, declared 
as its policy “that all planning for new church buildings and/or 
major renovations to existing church building shall take into 
consideration the needs of the handicapped members of our society, 
in order that all may enter into our fellowship.” Many pages 
followed, on site development, parking lots, ramps, entrances, 
doors, stairs, and restrooms. 

A week later, (on the American Independence Day, July 4, 
ironically and happily), the United Church of Christ called upon 
“each local congregation to take affirmative action assuring the 
full integration of persons with handicaps into membership of the 
Christian fellowship at all levels.” It also urged the Church to 
employ such persons, encouraged individuals with handicaps to 
become part of the ongoing life of the Church, and specifically 
called attention to “removal of environmental and architectural 

The National Council of Churches itself adopted in November 
1977, that same year, a similar resolution asking for “necessary 
architectural modifications” and “overcoming attitudinal barriers”. 

Toward Liberation 

Underneath all the statements about accessibility is the matter of 
attitudes. These barriers are the most difficult to crack! Even 
definitions of the “handicapped” usually carry pejorative meaning 
not inherent in the actual disability. A full definition should note 
that there is first the physical impairment itself (blindness, loss of 
a limb, etc.); then the specific kind of disability that impairment 
creates (need to walk with a cane or a guidedog, difficulty in mount- 
ing the stairs with a prosthesis, etc.) and finally the ‘handicap’ 
created by society as it looks at that individual: (he’s crippled in 
one way so he must be crippled all over). 

Precisely this “definition by others” is what the liberation move- 
ment is all about. Groups want to define themselves, not to be 
defined by others. Dean Krister Stendahl of Harvard University 
Divinity School declares, “One of the pains of being different is 
to have other people classify us. To be defined by others is a kind 
of bondage against which all liberation movements should join 
together.” At the meeting sponsored by Mainstream of Riverside 
Church, he added, “Let not the world, or that part of the Church 
which acts like the world, define you; define yourselves!” 


The Church therefore must go beyond the institutional response 
and move to “a dramatic affirmation of congregational acceptance 
of the handicapped within the mainstream of congregational life. 
Congregational inclusivity is required, an inclusivity that implies 
the destruction of architectural barriers, so that all may enter the 
house of God; a congregational inclusivity which involves a stance 
of advocacy for and with the handicapped.” 4 

A new day is dawning, a day of liberation, of self-awareness and 
pride. Facets of that many splendoured theme of freedom include 
the renewed feeling of self-identity, and pride in that identity, on 
the part of various groups in our society around the world, black 
and ethnic, women, and now persons with handicaps. This identity 
consciousness may be seen as a response to a triad of human 
sins — racism, sexism and handicappism. The sin in each case is 
the assumption by people of shortcomings or wrong inherent in the 
group criticized, whereas the error — indeed evil — is in the eye 
of the beholder. The white (or other group) creates racism; the 
male creates sexism; the so-called able-bodied create handi- 
cappism. Liberation can indeed lead to a new feeling of self-worth 
and proud identity. 

Pressure from government itself is one more way that churches are 
changing, since new laws mandate accessibility to public buildings. 
Thus, a state which defines public buildings as those which the 
public may enter are now requiring even church buildings, if they 
do major renovations, to include accessibility for persons with 
handicaps. With more and more states adopting such codes, 
church buildings may indeed change not from the moral imperative 
within the faith, but, sadly, only from external requirements! 

Advocacy groups of handicapped individuals themselves also are 
pressuring various groups including the Church. 

Biblical and Theological Perspectives 

Although theological aspects are dealt with elsewhere in this book, 
some mention must here be made, particularly on the weight of the 
requirements for ministry set forth in Leviticus 21, 17-23: 

None of your descendants , from generation to generation , who 
has a defect , may draw near to offer his God’s food; for no one 
who has a defect may come near , no one who is blind , or lame , 
or has any perforations , or has a limb too long; no one who has 

4 From a statement of the writer to the Bad Saarow Consultation. See also 
Bad Saarow Memorandum, Appendix II, paragraphs III, 1-6. 


a fractured foot , or a fractured hand , or is a hunch-back , or has 
a cataract , or a defect of eyesight , or scwrvy, or scabs, or crushed 
testicles — no one of the descendants of Aaron the priest , w/fo 
/zas a defect , moy come near to offer the Lord’s sacrifice; since 
he has a defect , /70 moj «o/ come near to offer his God’s food. 
He may eat his God’s food, some of the most sacred as well as 
the sacred, only he must not approach the Veil, nor come near 
the altar, because he has a defect in him, lest he profane my 
sanctuary ; for it is I, the Lord, who consecrate. (Goodspeed and 
Smith translation ) 

Jesus’ response to persons with handicaps is so open we could wish 
it had carried hence forward. Regrettably, the ancient doctrines 
(including Leviticus, the Helenist religions and others) in effect 
detoured around the New Testament statements and are still widely 
held today. 

Jesus’ own response was threefold: 

Personal (healing the individual concerned) 

Systemic (calling for changing the system of laws governing 
healing, and in effect requesting justice) 

Immediate (assuming the handicapping condition to be irrel- 
evant: John 9 ) 

The idea of the Suffering Servant, a dominant theme in Hebraic 
Christian theology, stresses that the one who comes ultimately to 
give life and hope to humankind is the one who suffers for human- 
kind, who gives himself for that humanity. The Suffering Servant 
exemplifies God’s ultimate concern for humankind, giving the 
assurance that underneath all of us are the everlasting arms. The 
Suffering Servant is also one who responds to the needs of all 
persons. In a Western society which has so often rejected the 
physically handicapped, at least at the unconscious level, and has 
made such persons the object of mission and oftentimes also of 
pity and scorn, the Suffering Servant shows God’s concern not 
alone for the able and privileged persons of this world but even 
more for the apparently forsaken. 

For the Christian community the one lost sheep is the one whom 
to save, the Shepherd leaves all the others. In Jesus’ picture of the 
Day of Judgment, he expresses the idea that God in Christ comes 
to that person who visits those who are sick and in prison and in 
need. The nail-pierced hands of Jesus — the “stigmata” — are the 
hands of one who cares for the stigmatized, who are in manifold 
ways pierced by the turned-aside eyes of fellow human beings. In 
word and action Jesus sets the handicapped person directly within 
the circle of unity of the Christian Church. 


New Testament theology also builds heavily on the Pauline 
argument that the individual is made perfect in weakness, that 
God has chosen the weak of the world to demonstrate life’s 
meanings to the wise and the strong. It is not weakness itself 
which is to be glorified but the fact that in weakness, one can see 
more clearly God’s intent for the world, that is, for the “power of 
Christ’’ to dwell within one. 

The doctrine of grace holds that we are accepted into the love not 
by our deeds or by our being but by God’s love for us. Thus a 
person’s power and beauty and majesty and strength all combined 
cannot save him: salvation comes through grace. As for illness, 
physical handicap, decrepitude, old age or mental retardation, 
none of these can destroy a person in the sight of God: he or she is 
saved by grace. The condition of every one of us before God is 
the same. 

There is also the utilitarian matter. Why debate theological mean- 
ings, when these persons are here? We acknowledge their presence 
among us and indeed see them in us. Without searching for 
reasons, without attempting to find the cause of evil and illness 
and pain in the world, we rather ask, what can we do? Jesus’ 
answer at this point is found in his statement to the persons who 
asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was 
born blind?” Jesus’ response was that neither sinned; then he 
pointed out the irrelevance of the question; within the condition 
this person has, it is yet his duty and indeed his glorious privilege 
to praise God. 

The Messianic feast of Jesus, and the “strength in weakness” 
statements of Paul are cornerstones for the doctrine that within the 
very nature of the Church itself, in weakness God may be glorified. 

The parable of the banquet in Luke 14 recounts the invitation to 
the great dinner, and the excuses the invitees gave: “I must look 
at my newly bought piece of land, or examine my five yoke of 
oxen.” Angered, the host demands, “Hurry out into the streets 
and squares of the city, and bring the poor, the maimed, the blind, 
and the lame in here.” (Goodspeed and Smith, Verse 21) The 
peroration of the householder, and the introductory conversation 
of Jesus and the Pharisees prior to Jesus’ description of the great 
banquet, are interrelated: “For I tell you that none of those men 
who were invited shall have any of my dinner!” (Verse 24); — the 
phrases prior to the great banquet include, “For everyone who 
exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself 
will be exalted” (Verse 1 1); — again, “Do not invite your friends 
or your rich neighbours or your relatives, for then they will invite 


you in return and you will be repaid. But when you give an enter- 
tainment, invite people who are poor, maimed, lame or blind. 
Then you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you 
will be repaid at the resurrection of the upright.” (Verses 12, 13, 14). 

The Kingdom of God is not complete without the poor and the 
maimed! And each member thereof is not complete, nor has hope 
of salvation, save that the lame and the blind are included! 

In weakness we are chosen. Not by our deeds or status, or lack of 
them are we accepted into the love but only through the glory of 
the grace of God in Christ. 

The Church not there! 

Even as there are ways beyond counting in which the Church 
through its institutional life and its faith has helped individuals 
survive the terrors of loneliness and alienation, so also the Church 
fails to fulfill such needs. 

Exclusivity of the Church 

Mirroring the secular world, resistance to the presence of handi- 
capped persons is a continuing blot upon the Church’s attempt to 
openness and inclusivity. 

Societally alienated persons are far too often rejected by the local 
congregation and responded to, if at all, primarily in terms of a 
‘’mission” on the part of the Church to these groups — to alcoholics, 
the mentally retarded, the physically disabled, returnees from 
mental hospitals, the violence-prone, former prisoners, and the 
aging. These are the persons who are wounded or ill on the road 
to Jericho wherever we travel. On this road the Church is far too 
often not the good Samaritan, but the priest and the Levite 
passing by on the other side. 

Our comfort is disturbed, our feelings are jolted by the presence of 
such a person in church (and as much on the way to church). We 
do not want to be reminded of the presence of such alienated 
persons in overwhelming numbers in our society, and of Christ’s 
response to them. 

Their name is legion. The physically disabled and developmentally 
disabled, for example, number close to 30 million persons in the 
United States. But they are seen only when one consciously — as 
in taking the commuter train through Harlem — bothers to notice. 
They are seen only when we remove our blinders, for they exist 
outside the comfortable purview of most church members. Alienated 


persons are in every third home on the block, and they are spread 
throughout our society; but far too often these persons in wheel- 
chairs and otherwise incapacitated remain “in the attic” where 
society has placed them through the years. We have a history of 
keeping people out of sight, out of mind. 

The Church challenged 

The Church challenged? The Church “attacked” may more 
accurately represent the mood of many handicapped. As institutions 
and as expressions of faith, the gauntlet is thrown. 

This new minority, ten to fifteen per cent of the population, only 
now begins to find its identity and express its power. With close 
ties to religious faith — for literally millions a trust in God — they 
feel the dark side of perverted expressions of that faith: my blind 
friend complains bitterly of the many “church people” who say 
to her, “If your faith in Jesus were strong enough, you could over- 
come your blindness.” Many Christians cringe daily in having such 
judgmental words spoken directly to them. 

“What have you done for me recently?” is a nettlesome phrase, 
reminding the Church always to be there. This challenge is taken 
up by organized groups of persons with handicaps, in some cases 
ignoring the Church, and in other cases directly challenging 
religious institutions. 

Advocacy groups of handicapped individuals themselves also are 
pressuring various groups including the Church. The major 
gathering of such persons was in April 1977 at the White House 
Conference on Handicapped Persons. Nine hundred delegates from 
across the land, invited by the President, met in Washington, D.C. 
to consider their many needs, desires, and plans for action. One 
such call to action was directed to the religious community. A 
special committee on religion had been created by the writer, a 
delegate from New York State, along with Father Thomas Cribbin, 
with a resultant resolution calling on religion and religious organ- 
izations “to integrate persons with handicaps”, to “aggressively 
recruit persons with handicaps into the leadership, including 
clergy”, to “overcome architectural barriers”, to overcome “atti- 
tudinal barriers”, to “begin training programs, to develop religious 
based curricula”, to “become advocates with persons with dis- 

Passed by an overwhelming majority of the delegates, the resolution 
is only sporadically being implemented. Again the weight of 
negative thinking is tremendous! 


Perhaps worse than attack is being ignored. Such is the case where 
a congregation’s members may say, “Oh, but we have no handi- 
capped persons in our membership”, illustrating precisely the result 
of a policy of excluding such persons, of keeping in front of the 
church five steps — or even one — that say to the person in the 
wheelchair, “We are not interested in your worshipping with us.” 
So the handicapped person goes farther down the street to those 
places which do more openly accept, or, more likely, retreats more 
deeply into a shell. 

The disparity between public buildings — forced by legislation to 
be accessible — and the buildings of private organizations such as 
the churches is an implicit form of this attack. Where the Church 
should be leading society as a whole, it follows reluctantly behind. 
The marked difference between churches which have torn down 
architectural and attitudinal barriers and the many others which 
still keep their skirts tightly around themselves in self-protection 
may mount further the attack of persons with handicaps. 

Semper Reformanda 

Always reforming and being reformed, the challenge of the 
presence in our society of an ever growing number of persons with 
handicaps highlights a new way of reformation. The festival 
theme, “Miteinander-Fureinander” (with each other; for each 
other), reflected the movement of one West German caring group, 
from a protective institution seeking primarily to provide support 
for its hundreds of persons in need of care, to a community- 
oriented programme attempting to see the “outsiders” and the 
“insiders” as complementary. 

We quoted above the statements of three major denominations in 
the USA, acting at top national levels to express concern for 
persons with handicaps. How did these come about? The United 
Methodist Church at its quadrennial convention in 1976 received 
such a resolution presented by a group of seminary students and 
faculty, and passed the resolution on to the Board for Global 
Ministries for implementation. A resolution titled “That All May 
Enter” rose from a local church to Presbytery to the national, all 
under the shepherding of Healing Community’s Norman Leach in 
San Francisco, and at the General Assembly of the United 
Presbyterian Church in the USA, meeting in Philadelphia in June, 
it was adopted. The United Church of Christ, following a two year 
process of creating overtures and a pronouncement on the handi- 
capped, under the impetus of the national director of the Healing 
Community (this writer) and with valiant intervention by the 


Reverend Virginia Kreyer * of the Metropolitan Association of the 
United Church of Christ, adopted the resolution at its General 
Synod in Washington, D.C. 

Next Steps 

Any notation of specific ways in which the Church responds to the 
needs of alienated persons must begin with the realization of the 
overarching and undergirding aspect of the religious incursion into 
the whole of secular society. A total infusion of the Christian 
culture has formed the secular society. A total infusion of the 
Christian culture has formed the secular response to human need. 
While it may well be tax dollars which support institutional and 
community care and all the other manifold responses to human 
need on the part of our society, the inherent motivation derives 
from Christian understanding, and the policy and guidelines 
reflect a basic Christian concern. Regrettably, there is no direct 
ratio any longer — the gears do not engage smoothly! — and there 
are enormous areas of slippage as between the secular response and 
the Christian motivation. Nonetheless, we must note at the outset 
the enormous contribution to the secular response to human need 
which is initiated and constantly reinforced by the Christian ethic. 

So, “next steps” include many present activities, but it may be 
helpful to list specific steps, summarizing previous discussion: 

Pervasive and continuing theological dialogue within the churches 
will help to relate biblical understanding about persons with 
handicaps to the current scene. Invidious conclusions from some 
of the biblical insights must be faced squarely: do we correctly say 
that a person born with a disability is reflecting the sins of his 
fathers, even to this fourth generation? It staggers the imagination 
to think of thousands of congregations engaged in biblical study 
on God’s gracious promise to provide wholeness for everyone! 

Worship must reflect the biblical insight, and specifically lift up in 
prayer and litany and sermon the plight of the disabled individual, 
the relationship of that individual’s situation to all of the rest of 
us, and the meaning of the spiritual and personal handicaps which 
all of us share. 

Astute political action will carry the concern of the church into the 
public arena, and help to inform that struggle. 

A vivid example is the month-long struggle for advocacy for 
disabled in attempting to press the United States Secretary for 
Health, Education and Welfare into signing regulations for the 

* See her “Account of the Hope that is within me”, p. 26. 


congressional act on handicapped. The Church had at least a small 
part in that effort: in one specific area, San Francisco, the Church 
moved in to support the handicapped advocates under the leader- 
ship of Norman Leach of the Healing Community. Utilizing the 
national resources of the Healing Community but more particularly 
winning approval from various levels of denominational and 
interchurch bodies in California, a united front of the community 
was presented to the government; that demonstration was a 
significant factor, along with others, in helping the government see 
the validity of the concern and the regulations were finally signed. 

In her article in One World , Ruth Elizabeth Knapp summarizes 
some of these political action steps: 

The issue of the Church and the handicapped addresses the 
quality of the lives of 400 million people worldwide — mostly 
in urban centres , among the poor , and in the Third World. It 
involves the daily denial of human and civil rights of the group 
least able to mobilize power in their own defense. It deals with 
the setting of priorities: in national and local policy; in public and 
private health; in the Church as well as society. It deals with who 
lives and who dies; with whether some people are made to live 
their lives in the wastelands of our societies so that others may 
have fuller access to its opportunities. It deals with questions of 
spiralling costs and how we can afford to continue to set people 
aside in “ caring ” institutions rather than create the means for 
optimum independence within the community . It deals with the 
human habitat , with urban planning , with development of 
accessible public transportation. It deals with the family: with 
human sexuality and denial of the full humanity of persons with 
disabilities; with genetics and genetic counselling. It deals with 
how we interpret the message of Christ and the cross in our daily 
lives and relationships with others. 

This involves extensive consciousness-raising; hard , painful 
account-taking to rid ourselves of attitudes inherited from pre- 
biblical times and to re-evaluate what we as Christians in the 
last quarter of the twentieth century really value in other human 
beings. It forces us to ask to what extent we really try to see 
the image of God in each of his children. 

Theological education is another next step. Institutions of higher 
education — seminaries and theological schools — must educate 
the next generation of ministers, priests and rabbis to become 
aware of and expert in the ministry with persons with physical and 
emotional disabilities. Prestigious Union Theological Seminary in 
New York City is the very first to institute such a course, and the 
writer notes out of personal involvement with a dozen other 
theological schools and the American Association of Theological 


Schools that this concern is rising in the purview of seminary 

Overcoming architecture and attitude barriers is a basic step. In 
many hundreds of local churches a minister or a lay leader has 
raised the question of why a disabled member of the congregation 
has to go elsewhere: “Of course we must make it possible for her 
or him to attend here,” they say, and then they intentionally work 
at overcoming two kinds of barriers — architectural and attitudinal. 
More and more churches are building ramps and designing new 
structures or renovating old ones so that persons with crutches or 
in wheelchairs, persons who have suffered coronaries, etc., can 
enter easily. 

The attitudinal barrier is more difficult. Certainly the first step is 
that of making the church building accessible so that the con- 
gregation no longer says in effect, “We don’t want you here.” But 
once means of easy access have been created, the response of the 
church membership to persons of special need requires intentional 
action on the part of individuals, supportive statements from the 
pulpit, and a deeper understanding of biblical acceptance of all 
God’s children! A Lady Bountiful attitude which assumes that the 
ministry of the church is to such “unfortunate individuals” — rather 
than with them — misses the whole point of the Gospel. 

When Princess Dymphna was murdered by her father in the Belgian 
town of Gheel in the fifth century, people understood the act of 
the king as obviously that of a mad person and came to believe 
paradoxically that his daughter had special healing qualities for 
the mentally ill. They came to Gheel from all over Europe in 
swelling numbers through the centuries, to be healed of their 
mental illnesses, and when they came, they found acceptance on 
the part of the community. No institutions were built for them; 
they stayed within the homes of the church and community 
members. This situation obtains even today. 

Perhaps the concept of Gheel and St. Dymphna may help us most 
in the matter of acceptance. Gheel represents that kind of acceptance 
which most of us have experienced at one time or another in our 
lives. We have felt it on occasions when we were accepted as a 
person just as we are; when we felt the “attributed wholeness” that 
society can and does give. We must extend to the person with a 
disability that supportive community of acceptance, which can in 
turn receive and learn from such an individual. 

Creating the caring society, building the healing community, 
organizing the caring community — however one names the goal — 
the ultimate objective is to help the Church reclaim its original 
charter of total concern for the lost. We shelter each other, and 
God all! 




Appendix I : 

Present rehabilitation services, their deficiencies 
and new directives for disability prevention 

The present publication gives sufficient evidence of the fact that 
the churches’ concern for disabled persons is in a stage of transition. 
Many churches continuing the traditional approach to disabled 
and retarded persons, concentrate their efforts (both personnel and 
financial) on the maintenance and improvement of institutions, 
such as specialized schools, vocational sheltered training centres, 
hospitals, homes, day-care centres, etc. At the same time there are 
many experiments in “mainstreaming” disabled persons into the 
normal life of communities. Here more emphasis is put on the 
creative and classic possibilities of disabled persons themselves, 
as well as on the active involvement and collaboration of the able 
members of the group. There is evidence that such experiments can 
not only prevent many disabilities but also make it possible for 
disabled persons to lead productive and meaningful lives as 
integrated members of their communities . * 1 2 3 

The WHO report referred to in Appendices I and II provides a 
general, though very useful and comprehensive description of 
present rehabilitation services. It also gives an account of their 
deficiencies, especially in view of the needs of developing countries. 
Consequently the programme emphases of WHO concentrate on 
the prevention of the causes of disabilities and on the involvement 
of local human resources. This basic disability prevention system 
is described as a goal deserving major attention both by national 

1 This point is further developed in: 

1. E. Helander: Towards a Multipurpose Rehabilitation Therapist, WHO, 
Geneva (mimeographed). 

2. The Social Integration of Mentally Handicapped Children and Adoles- 
cents, Hyvinkaa, Finland, 27.6-7.7.1976, Division of Social Affairs, 
European Social Development Programme, U.N. New York 1976. 

3. M. Culshaw: Vocational Training for the Handicapped, 1977. 


governments and non-governmental organizations. The following 
account is reproduced from document A 29/Inf. Doc. 1976 with 
kind permission of WHO. (Note of Ed.) 

Present Rehabilitation Services 

The present rehabilitation services will be analyzed in the light of 
the magnitude of the disability problem and its future trend which 
were described in the previous chapter. The emergence of medical 
rehabilitation and the past policies of WHO will be reviewed. 

1. The ermergence of medical rehabilitation 

Institutions for the rehabilitation of disabled people were first 
founded in the early part of the 19th century, mainly by non- 
governmental organizations. In the early years many institutions 
concentrated on the blind or on the “crippled”, and later on the 
deaf and the mentally retarded. In a typical institution there would 
be provided a combination of medical care (including orthopaedic 
surgery and the provision of technical aids like prostheses, braces, 
hearing aids, etc.), education, physical training (in physiotherapy 
and in daily life activities), and vocational training, sometimes 
followed by work in a sheltered workshop or agricultural area 
within the institution. 

Through the initiative of several non-governmental organizations, 
institutions of this kind were founded in many developing countries. 
Many of these institutions were run with the help of foreign staff 
and supported wholly by foreign funds. Several of these institutions, 
which were started in the early decades of the 20th century, are 
still in existence. 

The two world wars in this century produced many victims who 
survived but with serious impairments. This created an increased 
demand for rehabilitation services and after the Second World 
War a new speciality, medical rehabilitation, emerged to serve 
the needs of mostly persons who had been amputated or who had 
suffered other consequences of war-related trauma, e.g., paraplegia, 
head injuries, etc. Simultaneously, the number of patients injured 
in civil accidents began to increase and in this group road traffic 
accidents proved to be an increasingly important factor. Patients 
with non-traumatic neurological impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy, 
multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy) were also among those 
attracting more attention and in a typical European or North 
American rehabilitation institute in-patients with neurological 
impairments usually constituted half of the total number of 


At the same time the situation was improved for patients with 
mental impairments. Better care and teaching techniques for the 
mentally retarded and the introduction of effective drugs for the 
mentally ill led to changes in the policy of close confinement of 
patients and to their discharge to their homes. Thus, increased 
efforts to rehabilitate this category of patients were needed. 

During the last decade increased attention has been given to 
patients with impairments after cardiovascular and pulmonary 
diseases, for which new training techniques have been developed. 

In countries with a strong social security system, another interesting 
trend has been seen. Many of these countries require that patients 
on long-term sickness payment and candidates for invalid pension 
should undergo a period of rehabilitation in order, if possible, to 
improve their productive capacity and to enable them to return to 
work, thereby making a saving in the costs to society. 

During the 30 years since the end of the Second World War, 
rehabilitation has become increasingly specialized. Most countries 
have seen the area as being divided into medical, educational, and 
vocational rehabilitation and even further subdivided into separate 
facilities for different groups (e.g., the blind; the deaf; the mentally 
retarded; the mentally ill; patients with locomotor disturbances, 
speech disorders, or cerebral palsy; road traffic victims; polio 
victims; paraplegics; alcoholics, etc.). 

Another tendency has been the development of the team approach. 
Since the emergence of several professional groups specializing in 
different areas of rehabilitation, patients were given more and 
more specialized, high-quality care. As a number of medical and 
non-medical specialists were handling the same patients, this 
necessitated cooperation, usually in the form of team conferences 
and shared responsibility. 

In this context it is interesting to quote from the two WHO Expert 
Committee Reports. The first one (1958) states that 

... the rehabilitation process is a complex one , involving several 
disciplines and different techniques working together as a team in 
order to achieve the best end results for the handicapped person. 

The Second Report (1969) includes the following statement: 

Ideally , the rehabilitation team should consist of (a) physicians 
and nurses trained in the field of rehabilitation medicine , and 
(b) physiotherapists , occupational therapists , speech therapists 
and sociologists , social workers , clinical psychologists , vocational 
counsellors , prosthetists and orthotists , placement officers , 
special educators and recreational therapists. 


This report also states that other agencies and family members 
should be involved and that special consultants must be available, 
mentioning specifically seven types of consultants. 

Many physicians and other professional persons from developing 
countries, who received their training at typical rehabilitation 
institutes in North America or Europe, have developed simitar 
rehabilitation institutes upon their return to their home country. 

Following this development, most countries of the world now have 
at least one active rehabilitation institution. Many excellent results 
can be seen in such countries, and even though the impact on the 
disability problem has been small, these institutes have had a great 
influence on the goodwill towards rehabilitation and provided good 
examples of the extent to which patients with even severe functional 
limitations or disability can be helped to a better life. 

2. A critical analysis of the rehabilitation services of the past 

The first major document to criticize the way in which services in 
the rehabilitation area were developed was the report of a meet- 
ing of experts 1 , which was held in Killarney, Ireland, on 21-24 
September 1969; this report was published by the International 
Society for Rehabilitation of the Disabled and entitled “The 
Development of Rehabilitation Services in Relation to Available 
Resources”. The report stated that: 

“. . . it is obvious that the pace at which personnel were being 
trained and other necessities for rehabilitation services were 
being developed was not adequate to meet the current problem, 
and certainly incapable of coping with the predictable growth 
in the number of persons requiring professional help. . . 

“ ... it is possible that an objective analysis of methods of 
delivering rehabilitation services will suggest measures which 
can serve to provide at least the most essential assistance to 
large numbers of people with the resources available now or in 
the immediate future . . . 

“ . . . experience in the less developed areas makes it clear that 
essential help may be given to disabled persons in ways which 
are often different from those methods established for use in 
industrialized and economically developed areas but are con- 
sistent with the available resources and the cultural, social and 
educational patterns of the developing countries . . . 

1 This meeting was organized by the ISRD and was attended by representatives 
from several interested organizations as well as from the United Nations, ILO 
and WHO. 


“ . . . it may be possible to identify forms and patterns of service 
which, by requiring fewer trained personnel, less advanced 
level of training, simple facilities, etc., may enable the delivery 
of essential services to be expedited and expanded”. 

The views presented at this ISRD meeting about the deficiencies 
in rehabilitation services were confirmed in a review of present 
medical rehabilitation services conducted by WHO in 1971 in 
45 countries. 

From this study, and other experience, it may be concluded that: 

a) the growth of services, because of a lack of awareness and 
sense of urgency as well as a lack of funds and manpower, has 
been rather slow in the developed countries; 

b) rehabilitation services are practically non-existent or grossly 
inadequate in developing countries; 

c) there is an apparent lack of national planning and coordination 
of services (medical, educational, vocational, social, etc.) in 
most countries; 

d) medical rehabilitation services have usually concentrated on 
institutional care, with a low turnover of patients at a high unit 

e) owing to the factors mentioned above, coverage has been 
exceptionally poor; 

f) there is an evident lack of “know-how”, even in the major 
rehabilitation fields, because of the paucity of research into the 
effects of the care provided (as compared with control groups); 

g) when advanced rehabilitation services and technology have 
been introduced in developing countries, the result has often 
been discouraging or a complete failure. 

An evaluation of whether a simple extension of the pattern of 
rehabilitation services, like those provided in the past, will solve 
the problem of coverage of all disabled people will now be at- 
tempted . 

3. Can the present pattern of services be extended to give complete 

During the early phases in the development of rehabilitation, it 
was hoped that this new field would be given adequate funds to 
develop manpower and services to provide sufficient facilities for 


all those in need. This goal may have been achieved in a few very 
developed areas, but it is increasingly evident that it will not be 
achieved in the developing countries. 

There are no statistics available at present on the exact number of 
“rehabilitation professionals” in different countries. It is known, 
however, that this number is rather high in the cities of some 
developed countries. For instance, in a Scandinavian city of 
some 400,000 inhabitants there are at present about 35 physicians 
employed in the physical medicine and rehabilitation departments 
of the city’s hospitals and institutions. The same city has about 
one physiotherapist per 2,500 inhabitants and about one ortho- 
paedic workshop employee per 12,500 inhabitants, and still the 
needs of the adjacent rural areas are not met and will not be met 
in the foreseeable future, because the facilities are already over- 

It is quite clear that the worldwide provision of rehabilitation 
manpower to the extent now achieved in some developed countries 
will not be possible in the foreseeable future. 

Some examples are given below to illustrate this fact. It was 
recently recommended that rehabilitation services be set up in the 
capital city of a country in Africa. The recommendation closely 
followed the conventional design of an institution in Europe or 
North America. It was then recommended that services be extended 
through the provision of a similar institution in the second largest 
city, then in the third, etc. Figures for manpower needs (in 
11 different occupations) and of patient turnover were provided 
for the first institute. When this plan was scrutinized, it appeared 
that if the entire health budget for the country were utilized solely 
for rehabilitation services, it would take 60 years to develop the 
necessary manpower, and about 200 years to provide the present 
needy population with the desired amount of care. 

Similarly, a study was made for an Asian country in which the 
number of amputees (victims of several years of warfare and a high 
rate of accidents) was calculated to amount to about 1% of the 
population. The country spends about $1 per person per year on 
health. To provide these amputees with a western-type prosthesis, 
training, care, necessary repairs, etc. would require half of the 
country’s total health budget. 

Once the fact is realised that the extension of the conventional 
pattern of services is not feasible, it is logical to continue the 
analysis even further. Although the past results of the institutional 
rehabilitation services have sometimes been admirable from the 
viewpoints of the individuals helped, they must now be evaluated 
from a community standpoint. 


4. The deficiencies in the conventional approach 

Below is a summary of the deficiencies in the conventional rehabili- 
tation services in three areas: planning, content of services and 


Planning deficiencies 

(i) Most rehabilitation projects have been started without prior 
assessment of the population needs, or after an exploration of 
the priority areas. Thus, in general, the planning procedure 
might be described as poor, or inadequate; 

(ii) When considering a rehabilitation project, alternative means 
for achieving the same or even better results have seldom 
been considered. At a time when such alternative and less 
costly means of prevention (e.g., polio vaccination services 
as against the provision of care for the population impaired 
through polio; prevention of blindness as against care for the 
blind) have become available, the outdated services, some of 
which have been in operation for as long as 50 years, have 
been perpetuated in spite of the realization of the necessity for 

(iii) When planning, the aims have been very limited and the 
needed resources have usually been underestimated. The 
small size of many projects has impeded sufficient impact on 
the problem; 

(iv) In many instances, the planning of services in developing 
countries did not include the utilization of national manpower 
and resources throughout the project, and thus a dependence 
on outside personnel and funds was created; 

(v) Too many projects have been set up in urban areas (usually 
only in the capital city) leaving the rural areas of the develop- 
ing countries virtually without services. Other under-privileged 
populations, such as urban slum dwellers, nomads, etc., are 
usually not covered by the services. Thus, one might conclude 
that the planning of services, if done at all, at best provided 
only piecemeal solutions to some of the needs of the popu- 
lations, especially the needs of those who were clearly the 
most privileged and best served in terms of medical care. 

Deficiencies in the content of services 

(i) Too little has been done for the development of the inter- 
ventions defined above, as disability prevention. Most of the 
present institutions seem to be aware of the fact that they are 


frequently dealing with patients who come too late and for 
whom the procedure of disability reversal is usually very 
costly and unrewarding; 

(ii) The services have been established as a closed speciality with 
insufficient communications with other specialities and com- 
munity-based health care facilities. There has been a tendency 
to overlook the simple and inexpensive solutions in favour of 
highly advanced technology; 

(iii) The services have sometimes been established both for patients 
coming voluntarily for rehabilitation and for those required 
by the authorities to submit themselves unwillingly to training 
and assessment. Much goodwill has been lost in this way 
and rehabilitation institutions have often developed into places 
of last resort for social rejects. 

(iv) The fact that the quantitatively important problems must be 
solved before the qualitative ones requiring high-cost tech- 
nology are attacked, has been overlooked. Thus, the initial 
costs per treated patient have often been very high. The past 
performance has in many instances not led to any increase in 
government support because of the high initial costs; 

5. A summary of the present situation 

The present situation, as described in the preceeding sections, may 
be summarized as follows: 

(i) In the past and also at present, medicine has in general not 
been able to cope with the problems related to disability 
because of the preoccupation with more acute problems and 
the low interest among physicians and health workers in 
managing patients beyond the acute phase of potentially 
disabling disease; 

(ii) It would be an error to assume that future medical or social 
progress will in itself contribute to a favourable change from 
the present disturbing situation. On the contrary, as indicated 
in chapter 2, modern medicine is to some extent contributing 
to an increase in the magnitude of disability problems by 
saving patients previously condemned to die but leaving them 
with serious functional limitations as the price for survival. 
Modern society, as a result of increasing industrialization, 
urbanization, and road traffic, will produce even more disable- 
ment in the future. 

(iii) Rehabilitation medicine has in most places failed to meet the 
increasing demands for proper planning and a proper organ- 
ization of services to provide for adequate coverage, low-cost 


technology, and the recognition of priority solutions. Rehabili- 
tation agencies have not been able to coordinate sufficiently 
their efforts on either the international or national levels, and 
have not given proper recognition to the possibilities of 
prevention and the need for having community-based facilities; 

(iv) Institutes of rehabilitation have usually operated without 
taking into account the real situations in the world of their 
patients. The “technical” solutions provided in these insti- 
tutions have often had little impact on the patient’s future. 
Because the rehabilitation authorities and staff have failed to 
regard disability prevention and rehabilitation as a matter for 
the community and society as a whole, and as an integral 
component of the health services in community development 
programmes, these services have failed to achieve the needed 

With these remarks in mind, we might conclude that: 

a) There is a need to produce a greater awareness of the urgency 
of the disability problem and to obtain a higher priority for its 

b ) Owing to the large gap between actual needs and the potential 
possibilities of meeting them by utilizing present methods of 
providing services, present policies must be changed and a new 
set of solutions more in keeping with the actual situation and 
the available resources must be created and implemented. 

A new strategy to deal with disability problems will, to a great 
extent, depend on the underlying general policies, guidelines, and 
goals for health care. There are many conflicting goals in any 
society and those that are associated with rehabilitation policies 
will be reviewed in the next chapter {op. cit ., 20-27). 

Programme Objectives 

The overall objective is to introduce services aimed at reducing the 
global disability problem, and to provide greater population 
coverage than hitherto achieved. Activities within the programme 
will be directed towards disabilities caused by both physical and 
mental impairment and will be closely coordinated with on-going 
work in related programmes, for example, in primary health care 
and mental health. The services will also be integrated as far as 
possible into the national general health services. The services 
should include patient-oriented measures (preventive or curative 
treatment of disabling conditions, training to improve the patient’s 


remaining abilities, etc.) and society-oriented measures (preventive 
legislation, attempts to change negative attitudes towards the 
disabled, provision of needed and necessary facilities, etc.). 

The services should utilize all possible preventive and curative 
means, or means that may wholly or partly reverse an already 
present disability or delay its progress. 

Efforts to attain these objectives will include: 

a) promotional activities, such as information, public education, 
and support to studies and research which can increase the 
present public understanding of the impact of disability; 

b) attempts to develop the present methods of delivering the 
services by utilizing the following approaches: 

(i) to give better attention to locally effective measures for 
the prevention of disability rather than the extension of 
present rehabilitation services; 

(ii) to promote a more effective system for delivery of services 
based at the community level, involving community 
members, within the framework of primary health care; 

(iii) to support such services delivered at primary health care 
level with an appropriate referral system which forms part 
of the national health service; 

(iv) to give priority to solving problems that are felt by com- 
munity members as important obstacles to their socio- 
economic development; 

(v) to train manpower working at the primary services level 
and at referral levels belonging to the general health 
services, rather than to train the present multitude of 
highly specialized professionals; 

(vi) support of studies and research to assess disability prob- 
lems and identify effective and efficient methods of coping 
with them. 

The strategy of disability prevention 

As may be concluded from the above, disability prevention is not 
a new area or a new speciality. To prevent disability is the responsi- 
bility of all health personnel and also of staff outside the health 

The choice between different approaches is not an easy one. But 
seen as a strategy to diminish the impact of disability, one should 


on a long-term basis try to give priority to the approaches that 
have the best cost/effectiveness ratio. Some examples of the change 
of orientation are given below, e.g. one should: 

— extend vaccination against poliomyelitis rather than extending 
rehabilitation services for those already crippled by polio; 

— invest funds in prevention of blindness rather than extending 
special education and sheltered workshops for the blind; 

— provide simple drugs for epileptics and the mentally disturbed 
in their homes rather than build institutions to care for them; 

— provide safety measures to prevent traffic, home and occu- 
pational accidents rather than extending institutional care for 
the victims; 

— teach simple interventions and technology to family members 
of patients with functional limitations instead of referring them 
for treatment at far-away hospitals. 

— change agriculture technology to make it more suitable for 
those with functional limitations rather than provide for 
invalidity pensions or “welfare”. 

When such and similar means fail, there will be a need for rehabili- 
tation. The new orientation towards prevention of disability 
therefore does not imply the suppression of ongoing rehabilitation 
services, for which there are at present no better alternatives. 
With present technology, at least 50 per cent of all disability may, 
however, be prevented or postponed. For those conditions where 
the proper means and technology are lacking, research must be 
promoted. {Op. cit., 39.) 

The role of non-governmental organizations 

Such organizations have in many instances provided front-line 
workers, promoting the idea of rehabilitation for special groups, 
providing economic and human support, and they have usually 
been able to create goodwill for the cause of rehabilitation. 

Many such institutions are, however, rather inflexible in their 
approach and it would require a radical change in attitude to bring 
about a change in the content of present conventional services, 
and to introduce prevention-oriented solutions to the problem. 

It has been suggested that the services provided in developing 
countries by non-governmental organizations should be evaluated. 
This idea should be encouraged and could lead to the reorientation, 
referred to above, and the promotion of a system with the best 
cost/benefit ratio at the expense of those with less favourable 


ratios. All national planning should consider the eventual inte- 
gration of non-governmentally-funded rehabilitation institutes 
into the national health services and appropriate changes to 
achieve such integration should be envisaged. 

As indicated in Chapter 3, non-governmental organizations were 
among the first to recognize the necessity of a policy change, 
giving more emphasis to simply trained manpower and low-cost 
technologies. Their role in contributing to the improvement of 
services will continue to be important in the future. 

Many of these organizations are in official relations with WHO. 
Among these are those representing efforts to improve the situation 
for special groups (e.g. the blind, the mentally retarded), pro- 
fessional groups (e.g. specialized physicians, physiotherapists, 
occupational therapists), or those with a more generalized approach. 
Most of them belong to the World Council of Organizations 
Interested in the Handicapped, which holds annual meetings with 
the United Nations organizations to exchange information and 
ideas, and to decide on policy matters. 

WHO should try to establish even closer cooperation with such 
non-governmental organizations, and to broaden it into joint 
programmes of action and pooling of resources. 

The role of bilateral aid 

Bilateral aid makes an important contribution to health care, but 
has rarely been directed towards assistance to national programmes 
in the disability area. 

Most of this aid is directed towards projects given priority by the 
government; therefore, increased attention will only be paid to 
disability prevention programmes by these agencies, if they are 
promoted at country level. 

The socio-economic aspects of disability have rarely been explored 
by bilateral aid agencies or governments alike, resulting in a lack 
of awareness of the problems. Health surveys have mostly covered 
acute medical problems while neglecting disability. As a result, 
planning for the utilization of resources has not taken into con- 
sideration the necessity for disability prevention in its broader 
sense. This situation could alter if attempts are made to close the 
information gap and give a higher priority to the solution of the 
disability problem. {Op. cit., 49-40.) 



The life and witness of the handicapped 
in the Christian community 

Memorandum of an ecumenical European consultation 
in Bad Saarow, GDR, from April 3rd to 7th, 1978 


1. The Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 

Nairobi in 1975 accepted the Report of Section II on “What Unity 

Requires” which included the following passage: 

The handicapped and the wholeness of the family of God. 

The Church’s unity includes both the “ disabled ” and the “able”. 
A church which seeks to be truly united within itself and to move 
towards unity with others must be open to all; yet able-bodied 
church members , both by their attitudes and by their emphasis 
on activism , marginalize and often exclude those with mental or 
physical disabilities. The disabled are treated as the weak to be 
served , rather than as fully committed , integral members of the 
Body of Christ and the human family; the specific contribution 
which they have to give is ignored. This is the more serious 
because disability — a world-wide problem — is increasing. Acci- 
dents and illness leave adults and children disabled; many more 
are emotionally handicapped by the pressures of social change 
and urban living; genetic disorders and famine leave millions of 
children physically or mentally impaired. The Church cannot 
exemplify “ the full humanity revealed in Christ ", bear witness 
to the interdependence of humankind , or achieve unity in diversity 
if it continues to acquiesce in the social isolation of disabled 
persons and to deny them full participation in its life. The unity 
of the family of God is handicapped where these brothers and 
sisters are treated as objects of condescending charity. It is 
broken where they are left out. How can the love of Christ create 
in us the will to discern and to work forcefully against the causes 
which distort and cripple the lives of so many of our fellow 
human beings ? How can the Church be open to the witness which 
Christ extends through them ? 


This declaration has already brought about a deepened engage- 
ment for and with disabled people in many churches, especially in 
the USA. It also provided the background of the consultation 
held in Bad Saarow from April 3rd to 7th, 1978, on the theme 
“The Life and Witness of the Handicapped in the Christian 
Community”, sponsored by the Innere Mission und Hilfswerk 
of the Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic, 
on the one hand, and by the World Council of Churches’ Com- 
mission on Faith and Order, Commission on Inter-Church Aid, 
Refugee and World Service, and the Christian Medical Com- 

2. The consultation was attended by 38 representatives from 
15 countries. It concentrated intentionally on the situation in 
Europe. Most of the participants were people directly engaged in 
the work with the disabled. They included some who are them- 
selves physically or sensorily disabled persons. From the outset, 
the discussions revealed a deep and serious involvement on the 
part of all present. 

The following report is addressed by the participants to their 
fellow Christians, to the churches and to ecumenical organizations. 
In the unanimous view of the consultation, the insights, experiences 
and suggestions contained in this report deserve to be given the 
most serious consideration and to be translated into action. 

1. 1. We record our agreement with the convictions expressed in 
Nairobi of the subject of the handicapped and the wholeness of the 
family of God. We view this consultation as a contribution to the 
task of demonstrating and furthering the unity of God’s family 
by what we do together as disabled and able-bodied Christians. 
We appeal to our churches, congregations and organizations to 
work at this task vigorously and to fulfil it in whatever ways are 
open to us in our different situations. 

2. The wholeness of the family of God on which Nairobi laid such 
emphasis implies the full acceptance of the disabled in the life, 
witness and service of the Church. This full and unconditional 
acceptance of the disabled must be made a reality at the very heart 
of the Church’s life. It must not be relegated to the circumference 
nor treated as a separate specialist area of the Church’s work. 

3. When we confess our belief in the complete oneness of all human 
beings in the family of God, we are clearly affirming that no one 
may be excluded or excepted from it, however severely disabled. No 
physical, mental or sensory disability may be made a pretext for 
denying this solidarity. There is no Christian community without 
the disabled. When the handicapped are missing, the community 
itself becomes handicapped. 


4. Our Lord Jesus Christ identifies himself with the disabled. This 
does not imply that they have a special status in God’s redeeming 
work. In them, he encounters the community, just as he discloses 
himself to us in all those who are outcast, all who suffer, all who are 
despised. The Christian community is constantly summoned to 
gather together around its Lord. It is the permanent task of the 
Christian family to gather and to integrate all the members of his 
body. It is right to speak, therefore, of a constant mutual inte- 
gration of the disabled and the able-bodied. What Christ has 
united in his body by baptism, no man may put asunder. 

5. The consequences for the life of the Church are evident, in both 
worship and service, and affect the ordained as well as the lay 
leadership. Church services must be organized on the assumption 
that it is the rule and not the exception for the disabled to be present 
and to participate. We recommend, therefore, forms of worship 
in which disabled fellow Christians, with their range of experience 
and sensibility, their physical and sensory capacity for self- 
expression, are able to participate. We seriously question, there- 
fore, whether any grounds exist for excluding baptized Christians, 
however seriously disabled, from celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. 
We likewise think it necessary that admission to the priesthood 
must no longer be conditional on mediaeval or modern doctrines, 
de facto or de jure, stemming from the Levitical stipulations for 
admission to the priesthood. 

6. The unity of all human beings, irrespective of their disablements, 
is a sign of the preservation of the world from inhumanity. The 
presence of the disabled reminds us that every human being is a 
frail, threatened, defective being and a being created and blessed by 
God. “Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom 
of heart” (Ps. 90: 12). “Lord, let me know my end and the number 
of my days; tell me how short my life must be. . . And now, Lord, 
what do I wait for? My hope is in thee.” (Ps. 39: 4 and 7, NEB.) 
When those who are able move their disabled fellow human beings 
to a ghetto-like existence in homes or institutions, or abandon 
them to isolation and loneliness in their own homes, it becomes 
harder for all to learn how to serve. When the disabled are thrust 
out of sight of those who are able, all are in danger of losing the 
opportunity of partnership and the full richness of human experi- 

7. Fellowship between the disabled and the able-bodied makes it 
easier for all to be more realistic and honest in admitting that no life 
is exempt from disability. It is unrealistic to make a hard and fast 
distinction between the disabled and the “healthy”. It prevents the 
recognition that in some measure every human being is exposed 


to danger and in need of help and that at some time in the course 
of his or her life, if only in old age, must contend with handicaps 
of various kinds. 

II. 1. In thus affirming our conviction that the unity and integration 
of the disabled in the Church are based on the Gospel of Christ, we 
are implying that we speak in favour of the homes, schools and 
institutions where the disabled receive special help, protection and 

care. We acknowledge with gratitude the help and the home which 
such places provide for thousands of disabled human beings. 
Almost without exception, those engaged in the diaconal ministry 
of such institutions have been and are imbued with a profound 
devotion to disabled persons and provide their churches with a 
shining example of selfless fidelity and love. We also acknowledge 
with gratitude that in these institutions new and improved thera- 
peutic methods, technical aids and nursing systems have been 
developed which have become an indispensable aspect of the work 
with the disabled today. 

2. We urgently request ecumenical organizations, missionary 
societies and development agencies to include the promotion of 
preventive diaconia among the priorities for intensive and wide- 
ranging efforts. Action for prevention of disability is a critical 
demand not only for governments but also for the churches. This is 
a challenge inherent in the worldwide realities; for in many countries 
of the world disability prevention schemes are completely lacking 
or only at a very rudimentary stage. It cannot be commonly 
presupposed that the diaconia of the churches, as is the case in 
Europe, can start from the assumption that state legislation will 
guarantee preventive measures for the maintenance of health and 
the struggle against illness. In our countries, therefore, diaconal 
work can concentrate mainly on the curative and nursing sector. 
The experiences gained in this field should be used for the control 
and improvement of preventive measures. 

We note that, according to estimates made by the World Health 
Organization and other organizations, 10% of the world’s popu- 
lation is disabled (i.e. 400 million human beings). It is also estimated 
that more than half of these disabilities could be prevented by 
overall preventive measures. If the number of disabled people is to 
be reduced, in Third World countries especially, among the most 
important steps required are: adequate and balanced diet, health 
care among mothers and small children, inoculation programmes, 
sanitary measures, supplies of purified water, education in hygiene. 
Thus, the emphasis must be on preventive measures. 

3. We are convinced that in cooperation with government bodies and 
voluntary welfare organizations, the churches must develop com- 


prehensive patterns of preventive rehabilitation as a matter of 
urgency. The people in the villages and towns can help here in 
more ways than is sometimes expected of them. Within these 
overall patterns, the specialist institutions, clinics and rehabilitation 
centres can also find an important and even financially viable role. 
In many cases this will entail a radical shift in the direction of their 
work and a reallocation of funds and resources. 

4. With regard to our situation here in Europe, we wish to draw 
attention to the need to continue supporting the services of the 
churches with and for the disabled in institutions and rehabilitation 
centres. The whole Church owes its members in these institutions 
the continuing ministry of intercession. Among the responsibilities 
of the churches is to help to provide sufficient personnel for this 
vital and often difficult work, to offer training and retraining, and 
to facilitate an ongoing exchange of information and experience. 
A constant effort must also be made to ensure improved living 
conditions in institutions as well as improved conditions of therapy 
and work. Section 9 of the United Nations “Declaration of the 
Rights of the Handicapped” states: “When a handicapped person 
is unavoidably placed in a specialized institution, the environment 
and living conditions should as far as possible be comparable with 
those of a person of similar age living a normal life.” But the 
conditions in which handicapped people live in such institutions 
often falls short of this requirement. 

III. 1. We emphasize that the solidarity of the disabled and the 
able-bodied in the family of God is a challenge to the whole Christian 
community. The churches must go beyond the institutional response 
and move to a dramatic affirmation of congregational acceptance of 
the disabled within the mainstream of congregational life. The 
criterion of life in the Christian community must be whether or not 
disabled persons really share fully in that life. The Church loses its 
credibility when its proclamation of the unity of all Christians is 
not matched by a shared life in the fellowship of the Christian 
community. Diaconia is not a task apart. It is a constitutive 
dimension of the community of Jesus Christ in all places. 

2. The congregations are therefore summoned to the task of mutual 
and continuous integration. Many barriers which divide the “healthy” 
and the disabled from each other must be broken down. 

3. The greatest barrier is found in prejudices and attitudes. To a 
large extent, disabled people are emotionally rejected people. Other 
people do not quite know how to deal with them. They shy away 
from them, in a reaction of horror or fear. The ideal figure of the 
young, athletic, fully productive, successful human being leads 
them to disparage the handicapped person as a second-class human 


being. The Christian community must therefore be or become the 
place where these prejudices and attitudes are uncovered and 
changed by a human ideal which takes its direction from Jesus 
Christ as the suffering servant of God and the brother of the poor 
and despised. The Christian community has been given the 
opportunity of perceiving and making grateful use of the charismata 
of the disabled. 

4. The barrier of cheap pity is particularly discriminating to disabled 
people. When anyone commiserates with a disabled person as an 
unfortunate pitiable human being, this immediately creates a gulf 
between them. A condescending pity springs from a sense of 
superiority or fear and reinforces feelings of inferiority in the 
disabled person. Apart from the fact that pity tends to evaporate 
fairly rapidly, it also establishes a pattern of paternalistic aid and 
thus results in a relationship of dependency which the disabled 
person rightly rebels against. But in the Christian community all 
belong together as equally respected persons, irrespective of the 
degree of disability. The Christian community is, therefore, the 
place where cheap pity is transformed into the attitude of being 
joyful with the joyful and mourning with the mourning (cf. 
Rom. 12 : 15). Of course, we cannot ignore the fact that disabled 
people depend on others to assist them, to nurse them and care for 
them. But this should not lead a congregation to assume mistakenly 
that disabled people must always be receiving and can never be the 
givers. Generally, it is not realized that the inclusion of the disabled 
in the Christian community is of vital importance for all and that 
it leads to a renewal of congregational life. 

5. The barriers set up by forms of worship and liturgy must be 
broken down. The services must be so designed that the disabled 
can participate. In this respect, each liturgical tradition will have 
to ask itself different questions. But in each case the communal 
character of worship needs to be more strongly focused. God’s 
caring for us and our caring for each other can be more convinc- 
ingly expressed in signs and gestures, music and colours than is 
generally found. The link between worship and hospitality and 
diaconia can be made more manifest. 

6. Congregational inclusivity implies destruction of architectural 
barriers. We urge church authorities and congregational councils 
to ensure that the house and the altar of God are made accessible 
to the disabled as well as the able-bodied. Churches and church 
premises should be so designed that disabled fellow Christians can 
feel at home in them. To judge by their structural design, most 
churches are still indifferent and, in view of those directly con- 
cerned, hostile towards the disabled. 


7. Congregational inclusivity involves a stance of advocacy for and 
with the disabled. Congregations which seriously try to overcome 
their own barriers can also become credible champions of the disabled. 

As partners they may present their common needs to the general 
public, in the local communities and elsewhere. 

8. The integration of the disabled in the family of God has implica- 
tions for the ordinary life of the Christian community. One particu- 
larly important task is the regular visitation of the disabled and 
their parents, spouses, and relatives and sharing in their struggle 
against loneliness and embitterment, and with day-to-day diffi- 
culties. Members of the family need regular periods of relief from 
the nursing of their disabled member (for example, by home helps). 
Parishes should also arrange joint holidays, outings and excursions, 
as is already done in many places. 

9. Sensitivity to the situation of disabled fellow human beings must 
be developed in the teaching and catechetical work of congregations. 

This training in sensitivity must begin in the kindergarten and 
continue in the Sunday School and in other teaching activities. 

10. The majority of Christians and society generally tend to regard 
the search for partnership and the sexual needs of disabled persons 
with incomprehension and rejection. But this presents a heavy and 
unnecessary burden for those concerned. We must, therefore, 
make it a rule for ourselves — and we ask the churches to do the 
same — not to give vent immediately to moral scruples when 
disabled persons seek novel solutions which may perhaps appear 
shocking to us. There is need to react with wholistic ethical 
response, and not with a monolistic or legalistic bias. We must put 
ourselves in the place of the disabled person and ask ourselves 
what expression is open to, and would be a responsible one for 
him or her of the disposition which God has given to us all. 

11. Like their peers, young, disabled persons, especially, strive for 
independence and autonomy. Our question therefore is: can con- 
gregations help to ensure that hostel accommodation or flatlet 
schemes are built in which physically or mentally disabled young 
people can share life with able-bodied young people as indepen- 
dently as possible? 

12. We note frequently that pastors, priests and church workers 
have an inadequate understanding of the disabled person and his or 
her situation. There is a striking gap here in theological training. 
The diaconal dimension is a basic one in christology and should 
therefore be characteristic of the basic equipment of theologians. 
We recommend, therefore, that theological students and other 
church workers should be enabled, by obligatory practical courses 


and by theoretical studies, to develop a real understanding of their 
disabled fellow human beings and of human suffering in general. 

IV. Ecumenical Requirements 

1 . We are grateful for the cooperation between a number of sub- 
units of the World Council of Churches and the Innere Mission 
and Hilfswerk of the Evangelical Churches in the German Demo- 
cratic Republic which made this consultation possible. We regard 
the consultation as the first of many such ecumenical initiatives. 
Among the future tasks and requirements are: 

2. Ecumenical exchange of experience and results of research, 
with the participation of disabled persons and including the Roman 
Catholic Church; 

— support of minority churches in their work with the disabled; 

— more thorough study of disability prevention, in close cooper- 
ation with other international organizations, such as the World 
Health Organization and Rehabilitation International. 

— critical reflection of contemporary anthropological ideals such 
as strength, beauty, efficiency, and their discriminating impact on 
disabled persons in the light of confessing Jesus Christ, whose 
power comes to full strength in weakness. 

3. Specialist conferences should study the following problems: 

— opportunities and models for the integration of disabled 
persons in the life of the churches; 

— partnership and sexuality among disabled people, and coun- 
selling methods; 

— religious instruction of mentally disabled children and adults; 
provision of ecumenical curricula and materials; the development 
and diffusion of new forms of worship which do justice to disabled 


The cause of the handicapped is a demand and a challenge to the whole 
Church, to its theology and its worship, to its congregational life and 
teaching. This book is a beginning in an attempt to discover anew the 
wholeness of the family of God in and with the handicapped. It contains 
flashes of insight which may throw new light on theological convictions, 
educational and practical tasks. Many different people have collabor- 
ated: handicapped people, and parents or relatives of handicapped 
people, social workers, pastors and theologians. Interspersed throughout 
are testimonies and prayers of persons with handicaps. The editor has 
not tried to smooth out the individuality of these voices. Aggression, 
bitterness, disappointment, confidence, protest, love, patience — they 
will all be felt in the texts which are collected here. 

The United Nations has declared 1981 as the Year of the Disabled. The 
churches will use the opportunity to prove their message and their service 
and to work for the renewal of their community. This book will help 
all of us, whether we have to live with handicaps or not, to live with 
each other and to sustain each other as partners in life to the glory of